Amsterdam: Jodocus Hondius, 1623.
Map. Colored engraving. Image measures 14.5" x 15.5".
This fine antique map is the first printed map dedicated to the Arctic Circle and the North Polar regions. Derived from an inset of the Arctic regions in Mercator's great 1569 world map, where he first introduced his revolutionary projection, here the scope is extended to the latitude of 60 degrees to enable the depictions of the Frobisher and Davis' attempts to search for the North West and North East Passages.
California curiously appears north of the Strait of Anian and is labeled as Spanish Territory. Across from Anian on the Asian coast, Mercator labels the land of Gog. This most likely references the regions of Gog and Magog appearing in the Hebrew Bible or to the legend of horse-riding barbarians from near the Don River and the Sea of Azov, locked up by Alexander the Great behind gates surrounded by the 'Caspian' or the Caucasus Mountains.
Perhaps the most intriguing feature here is the mapping of the North Pole. Since no explorers at this time had made it anywhere near the North Pole, Mercator based his depiction on the legend that a large rock (the Rupes Nigra) stood at the pole in the center of a whirlpool known as Polynya, or Open Polar Sea. Mercator is believed to be referencing the Inventio Fortunata, the lost book dating from the 14th century which describes the North Pole as a magnetic island surrounded by a giant whirlpool and four continents. The continents are separated by rivers through which warm water from the surrounding oceans flowed. Although Mercator also includes another magnetic rock just north of the Strait of Anian which he labels as the magnetic pole, indicating that given the magnetic variation, Mercator himself did not believe the north pole to be the magnetic pole.
In addition, as one text annotation describes, one of the four islands was believed to be inhabited by pygmies. References to this can also be found in the Inventio Fortunata as the people that the author encountered. This could also be referring to the Skraeling (the name considered by some to be the direct Old Norse translation of the Latin word Pygmaei), the indigenous people of Greenland and North America whose men left the land to hunt in groups, leaving the females behind.
Another interesting feature is the phantom island of Frisland appearing between Greenland and Iceland. The island might have originally been a reference to Iceland until the 1558 Zeno map noted it as a separate island. The island continued to appear in several maps through the 1660s.
Following Mercator's death in 1594, it was left to his son Rumold to publish the first state of this map in 1595. This is the second state of the map published in 1623 by Jodocus Hondius. To account for the recent discoveries, particularly in Nova Zembla and Spitsbergen, Hondius, who acquired the plates in 1606, updated the plates. He erased the coastline of the islands with the 'Pygmie', added Nieulant, Willoughbes Land and Macsin and made Nova Zembla one single island but with an incomplete coast.
In addition to the central hemisphere containing the Arctic, there are four roundels in the corners: one with the title, and the other three with maps of the Faeroe Isles, the Shetland Isles, and the non-existent island of Friesland. It is in good condition with overall toning. Centerfold exhibits minor wear and verso repair near the bottom margin, not affecting the image. Minor foxing, especially near the inset of Frisland in the top left. Latin text on verso.
Gerardum Mercator (1512-1594) was an accomplished mathematician, cartographer, globe maker and engraver but is best known for the Mercator Projection. Incorporating the newly accepted fact that the world is round, Mercator was able to render longitude lines consistently straight on a chart. Although this requires some distortion, it was of great use for navigators, and is historically important, as it is still the most commonly used projection today. Although their partnership was only indirect, Mercator and Hondius are one of the most significant pairs in the history of mapmaking. (Burden 88, confirmed by Burden.)