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Mercator Hondius: Septentrionalium Terrarum descriptio

Map: POLAR482
Cartographer: Mercator Hondius
Title: Septentrionalium Terrarum descriptio
Date: 1630
Published: Amsterdam
Width: 15 inches / 39 cm
Height: 15 inches / 39 cm
Map ref: POLAR482
Spectacular example, in glorious original hand-colour, of one of the earliest printed maps of the Arctic.

The great Flemish cartographer Gerard Mercator drew this map for inclusion in the third and final volume of his atlas, Atlantis Pars Altera, but it was not published until after his death in 1594. In 1604 the copperplates for Mercator's atlas were sold to Jodocus Hondius who, in 1606, issued a slightly revised edition (State 2). In the second state Nova Zembla is shown as one island instead of two.

The map's curious geography is largely based on the account of the Inventio fortunatae, a dubious 14th century travelogue of a journey to the Arctic. According to legend, the North Pole was surrounded by four islands separated by four great rivers. These rivers flowed from a great Arctic whirlpool within which sat an enormous mountain of iron, the Rupes nigra. This mountain of iron was thought to be the reason that compasses pointed north.

Mercator, a far more rigorous scholar than many of his counterparts, also applied contemporary discoveries to his maps whenever he could. This includes the findings of the English voyages of discovery in search of the fabled Northwest and Northeast Passages. The routes of Frobisher and Davis in particular are noted on this map. Mercator received this information through his correspondence with John Dee, a vociferous supporter of the English search for the Northeast passage and a leading advisor to Queen Elizabeth I.

Miniature maps of the Shetland Isles, the Faroe Isles, and the phantom island of Frisland appear in three corners of the map while the fourth corner is occupied by a title cartouche. Elaborate scrollwork borders encircle the map.

Latin text on verso (image available on request). Framed. [Burden (P.): The Mapping of North America 88, State 2] [POLAR482]