Septentrionalium Terrarum Descriptio.
Published (1595) 1623, Amsterdam
Size: 15.5" X 15"
A beautiful example with vivid colour of Gerard Mercator’s second state of his seminal map of the North Pole. This map was first issued posthumously by Mercator’s son, Rumold, in 1595 and was the first map ever published to concentrate exclusively on the Arctic. The 1595 map has its provenance from Mercator’s 1569 wall map that revolutionized modern cartography by introducing a new world projection. However, to counterbalance the projection’s polar distortions, the 1569 wall map incorporated a separate arctic projection from which the 1595 map is based. Although to modern eyes the depiction at the North Pole with its four islands and a whirlpool surrounding the “Rupes nigra”, or magnetic rock, may seem fanciful, Mercator was attempting to reconcile together different conceptualization of the earth’s pole from varied contemporary sources. These sources, which were mentioned in his letter to John Dee, an Elizabethan scholar who was instrumental in advocating England’s early voyages of discovery, unfortunately have been lost to modern readers. That being said, the sources most likely include such works as Jacobus Cnoyen’s Itinerarium that helped support the notion that England had in the past sailed to these arctic shores and gave credence to those who later sailed in search of a Northwest or Northeast passage to the Orient as depicted by Mercator’s map.
It is worth mentioning that Mercator also integrates information gathered from contemporary explorers, such as Martin Forbisher and John Davis. Nonetheless, similar to other maps of the era, the drawing of Forbisher’s Strait appears incorrectly in Greeland so as to confuse the location of the Meta Incognita which was believed to be the possible entry to the Northwest passage.
However, as the pace of new arctic exploration continued, notably from the discoveries of the Dutch explorer Willem Barentz, the second state of this map first published in 1606 integrated a new depiction of the coastline of Nova Zembla as well as the islands in its immediate vicinity. Also of note is Groenland’s new position which allows for greater space between it and the South Western fictitious island surrounding the Rupes Nigra.
Mercator’s map of the North Pole would stand as the standard depiction of the arctic until the advent of Henricus Hondius’ map Nova et Accurata Poli Arctici et Terrarum cium lacentium Descriptoof in 1637.
(Sources:Bryars, T. , Mercator’s ‘Septentrionalium Terrarum descriptio’: mapping the Northern lands. Geographicus item NorthPole-mercator-1606)