Last week Mercator’s beautiful Atlas sive Cosmographicae found its way into the DIU, only after it arrived did we discover that it was actually his 503rd Birthday, a fact celebrated by google with a Google Doodle http://www.google.com/doodles/gerardus-mercators-503rd-birthday.
This innovative Flemish Cartographer used a system that showed parallels and meridians as straight lines, and produced an accurate ratio of latitude to longitude- this later became known as the ‘Mercator Projection’. He also coined the term ‘Atlas’ for a collection of maps, although his own Atlas was published posthumously by his son.
In 1544 he was imprisoned for 7 months on a charge of Heresy, his frequent travels to gather information for his maps and sympathies to Protestantism had aroused suspicion. The charges were later dropped and he was able to return to his scientific studies. See http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/375626/Gerardus-Mercator for further information.
Many of the maps, particularly those of Europe are surprisingly detailed and accurate, but for a layman like myself, it is the absences and errors that are so fascinating- the Pacific is empty, the North Pole is a lake, Antarctica reaches all the way up to South America and monsters swim the seas. Some of these beasties have one toe in reality, could the Mer-beaver have been a seal seen from a distance? Or is the bloody-mouthed Ghost rising from the ocean really a hammerhead shark? However- I can find no plausible explanation for the Dr Seuss inspired Terrier dog-paddling through the Caribbean!
But perhaps my favourite beast is the trusty dog on the title page with his paw on the globe and the Latin ‘Excusum sub cane vigilanti’ – printed under the watchful dog.
Susan Pettigrew, Photographer