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The Mercator Atlas of Europe - Introduction

Image of the Mercator Atlast of Europe cover
British Library Maps C.29.c.13
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This atlas was put together in the early 1570s by the Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator, perhaps the best-known mapmaker of all time, to help with planning the grand tour of Europe of his patron's son, the crown prince of Cleves.

Mercator compiled several maps from copies of wall maps of the British Isles, Europe, and the world that he had available in his workshop. He carefully cut up and pasted parts together to fit the atlas format. He created aesthetically balanced regional maps, removing tables and illustrations that did not wholly fit on the page and making space for customised scale-bars for each of the "new" maps. The process gave him a chance to experiment with the creation of regional maps as a step towards his long-term ambition of producing an atlas. For the rest of the atlas he used hand-drawn maps by himself, an urban map of Ancona in Italy, and numerous maps from an atlas published in 1570 by his friend and rival Abraham Ortelius.

The sheets from the 1554 map of Europe and the hand-drawn maps are unique survivors. The maps of the British Isles, from his wall map of 1564, are probably based on surveys by John Elder, a disreputable Scottish Catholic priest, that - much against Mercator's own will - were intended to assist an invasion of England. The atlas is the most important surviving body of Mercator's work in a single volume.

British Library Maps C.29.c.13


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