Gerardus Mercator

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Gerardus Mercator
Born Gerard de Cremer
(1512-03-05)5 March 1512
Rupelmonde, County of Flanders
(modern-day Belgium)
Died 2 December 1594(1594-12-02) (aged 82)
Duisburg, United Duchies of Jülich-Cleves-Berg
(modern-day Germany)
Education University of Leuven
Known for
Spouse(s) Barbara Schellekens
Children Arnold (eldest), Emerentia, Dorothes, Bartholomeus, Rumold, Catharina

Gerardus Mercator /ɨˈrɑrdəs mərˈktər/ (born 5 March 1512 in Rupelmonde, County of Flandria, Belgica Regia, died 2 December 1594 in Duisburg, United Duchies of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, (modern-day Germany)) was a Belgian cartographer, philosopher and mathematician. He is best known for his work in cartography, in particular the Mercator 1569 world map based on a new projection which represented sailing courses of constant bearing as straight lines. He also was the first to use the term "atlas" for a collection of maps.

Life and works[edit]

Mercator was born in the town of Rupelmonde where he was named Gerard de Kremer or de Cremer. He was raised in Gangelt in the Duchy of Jülich, the home town of his parents. Mercator is the Latinized form of his name which means "merchant". He was educated in the then Belgian city of 's-Hertogenbosch by the famous humanist Macropedius and at the University of Leuven (both in the historical Duchy of Brabant as part of Belgium). Despite Mercator's fame as a cartographer, his main source of income came through his craftsmanship of mathematical instruments. In Leuven, he worked with Gemma Frisius and Gaspar Van Der Heyden (Gaspar Myrica) from 1535 to 1536 to construct a terrestrial globe, although the role of Mercator in the project was not primarily as a cartographer, but rather as a highly skilled engraver of brass plates. Mercator's own independent map-making began only when he produced a map of Palestine in 1537; this map was followed by another—a map of the world (1538)[1] – and a map of the County of Flanders (1540). During this period he learned Italic script because it was the most suitable type of script for copper engraving of maps. He wrote the first instruction book of Italic script published in northern Europe.

Mercator was charged with heresy in 1544, on the basis of his sympathy for Protestant beliefs and suspicions about his frequent travels.[note 1] He was in prison for seven months before the charges were dropped—possibly because of intervention from the university authorities.[2]

Terrestrial globe by Mercator dating from 1541. It is now in the museum collection of the Palazzo Ducale in Urbania, Italy, and is one of about 22 existing Mercator globes.[3]

In 1552, he moved to Duisburg, one of the major cities in the Duchy of Cleves, and opened a cartographic workshop where he completed a six-panel map of Europe in 1554. He worked also as a surveyor for the city. His motives for moving to Duisburg are not clear. Mercator might have left the County of Flandria for religious reasons or because he was informed of plans to found a university. He taught mathematics at the academic college of Duisburg. In 1564, after producing several maps, he was appointed court cosmographer to Wilhelm, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg. In 1569, he devised a new projection for a nautical chart which had vertical lines of longitude, spaced evenly, so that sailing courses of constant bearing were represented as straight lines (loxodromes).

Mercator took the word atlas to describe a collection of maps, and encouraged compatriot Abraham Ortelius to compile the first modern world atlas – Theatrum Orbis Terrarum – in 1570. He produced his own atlas in a number of parts, the first of which was published in 1578 and consisted of corrected versions of the maps of Ptolemy (though introducing a number of new errors). Maps of Belgium, France, and Germany were added in 1585 and of the Balkans and Greece in 1588; further maps were published by Mercator's son, Rumold Mercator, in 1595 after the death of his father.

Mercator learnt globe making from Gemma Frisius, and went on to become the leading globe maker of his age. Twenty-two pairs of his globes (terrestrial globe and matching celestial globe) have survived.

Following his move to Duisburg, Mercator never left the city and died there, a respected and wealthy citizen.


Mercator is buried in the Church of Our Saviour (Salvatorkirche) in Duisburg. Exhibits of his works can be seen in the Mercator treasury located in the city.

More exhibits about Mercator's life and work are featured at the Mercator Museum in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium.

The famous Belgian sailing ship Mercator is named after Gerardus Mercator to honour his improvements in the area of naval navigation. The ship was built in 1932 and is currently moored in the marine of Ostend, where it is used as a museum.

2012 marked the 500th anniversary of Mercator's birth. On 4 March 2012, celebrations of Mercator's life were held at his birthplace, Rupelmonde.

In 2015, a Google Doodle commemorated his 503rd birthday.[4]


  1. ^ The charges of Lutheran heresy laid against Mercator and forty others were deadly serious: two men were burnt at the stake, another was beheaded and two women were entombed alive.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Nicholas Crane: Mercator: the man who mapped the planet, London: Phoenix, 2003, ISBN 0-7538-1692-X
  • A. S. Osley, Mercator: A Monograph on the Lettering of Maps, etc. in the 16th Century Netherlands, with a facsimile and translation of his treatise on the italic hand and a translation of Ghim's Vita Mercatoris, London, Faber, 1969.
  • Peter Osborne, The Mercator projections.
  • Roger Calcoen et al, eds. (1994). Le cartographe Gerard Mercator 1512—1694. Bruxelles: Credit Communal. ISBN 2-87193-202-6. 

External links[edit]