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Mercator, Gerardus [Gerhard Kremer]

1. Dates
Born: Rupelmonde, Flanders, 5 Mar 1512
Died: Duisberg, Germany, 2 Dec 1594
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 82
2. Father
Occupation: Artisan, Cleric
His father was a poor shoemaker. However, Mercator was reared by an uncle, who was an affluent ecclesiastic.
The uncle's financial status was the one that determined
Mercator's circumstances.
3. Nationality
Birth: Rupelmonde, Flanders
Career: Germany
Death: Duisberg, Germany
4. Education
Schooling: Louvain, M.A.
His uncle, Gisbert Mercator, sent him to school at 'sHertogenbosch at the House of the Bretheren of the Common Life, probably as preparation to enter the priesthood.
1530, entered University of Louvain, principal studies were philosophy and theology. I assume B.A.
1532, M.A., Louvain. After graduation he studied mathematics and astronomy privately under Gemma Frisius, and acquired engraving skills.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic, Protestant
I find it impossible to tell from what follows; Cleves was Protestant, but he had innumerable Catholic patrons.
1544, accused of heresy and imprisoned several months be- fore being released for lack of evidence. This occurred in Catholic territory. Note that he moved to Cleves shortly.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Cartography, Geography
7. Means of Support
Primary: Publishing, Instruments, Patronage
Secondary: Schoolmastering
1530-1552 he made globes, maps, and scientific instruments in Louvain, first in the shop of the engraver and goldsmith Gaspar a Myrica (van der Heyden), then with his own group of craftsmen. In 1551, he obtained the privilege to print and publish books.
1552-1594, lived in Duisburg, worked as 'cosmographer' to the Duke of Cleve.
1559-1562, taught at grammar school there.
8. Patronage
Types: Aristrocrat, Eccesiastic Official, Court Official, Government Official
His first map of Palestine (1537) is dedicated to Frans Craneveld, a councillor of Emperor Charles V.
Mercator dedicated his 1540 map of Flanders to Charles V and later other items as well.
His terrestial globe (1541) is dedicated to M. Nicolas Perrenot de Granvelle, the most eminent member of the privy council of Charles V. Through his recommendations, Charles purchased a number of scientific instruments (and replacements for those instruments which were destoyed in the war of Saxony) from Mercator.
His celestial globe (1551) is dedicated to the Prince- Bishop George of Austria, Bishop of Liège.
1552, became 'cosmographer' to William, Duke of Cleve. The Duke was also planning to found a university there and Mercator doubtless hoped for a position. The map of the World (1569) and Tabulae Geographicae Cl. Ptolemaei (1578) are dedicated to William.
The map of Europe (1554) is dedicated (for which Mercator received an honorarium) to Cardinal Archbishop of Mechlin and Bishop of Arras, Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, councillor of Charles V and Philip II, who was a known patron of Mercator.
The Duke of Lorraine commissioned him to do a survey of his duchy.
Galliae tabulae geographicae (1585) is dedicated Prince Johann Wilhelm (successor to William of Cleve?).
Italiae, Sclavoniae, et Graecia tabulae geographicae (1590) is dedicated to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando de' Medici.
A concordence of the gospel is dedicated to Heinrich von Weze, and Chronologia (1560) is dedicated to Henricus Oliverius, both were chancellors of Cleve.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Instruments, Navigation, Cartography
He made maps, globes, and scientific instruments, and surveyed.
1569, he invented a type of map for seamen with perpendicular longitudes and latitudes, the Mercator projection. In addition, he made remarkably detailed and accurate maps of western and southern Europe, which he designed, engraved and published.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
  1. Breusing, "Mercator," Allegemeine deutsche Biographie, 21 (Leipzig, 1885), 385-97.
  2. A.S. Osley, Mercator: A Monograph on the Lettering of Maps...
  3. (London: Faber & Faber, 1969) [Z43.A3 M553]
  4. Walter Ghim, Vita Mercatoris, trans. in Osley.
  5. Leo Bagrow, A. Ortelii Catalogus Cartographorum, 2 vols. Ergänzungsheften Nr. 199 & 210 zu "Petermanns Mitteilungen," (Gotha, 1928-30), 2 (Nr. 210), 3-17.
  6. J. Denucé, Oud-Nederlandsche kaartmakers in betrekking met Plantijn, 2 vols. (Antwerp, 1912-13), 2, 279-323.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. E.F. Hall, "Gerard Mercator, His Life and Works," Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, (1878), 163-96.
  2. F. Van Ortroy, "L'oeuvre geographique de Mercator," Revue des questions scientifiques, Oct. 1892 and April 1893.
  3. van Raemdonck, Gerard Mercator, sa vie et ses oeuvres, (St. Nicolas, 1869). Manfred Büttner, ed. Neue Wege in der Mercator-Forschung: Mercator als Universalwissenschaftler, (Bochum, 1992).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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