The British Library
I. The Mercator Atlas of Europe
|The most important purchase the British Library has made in recent
years is the Mercator Atlas of Europe. A composite atlas, it contains
not only examples of Mercator's separate-issue wall-maps, which are rare
enough in themselves, but also the only known manuscript maps in Mercator's
own hand. Some of the printed maps bear annotations in Mercator's handwriting.
Also included are thirty of Abraham Ortelius's maps from the
Orbis Terrarum of 1570, and a plan of Ancona in Italy, signed "A.B."
and presumed to be by Ambrosius Brambilla.
Usually such an item would have been well outside the budget of the Library, but a grant from the British National Lottery enabled it to purchase this prestigious item
|History of the Atlas
Apparently compiled c.1570-1572, judging by the dates of the Mercator items, the atlas appears to have been assembled someone with a particular interest in Europe. For example, the only parts of the 1569 world map included here relate to Europe. It has been suggested that the atlas was compiled for Werner von Gymnich, a close associate of Mercator's, who made a trip to Italy in 1570. This might account for the manuscript maps of Tirol and Lombardy: Mercator had a poor opinion of Italian maps, calling them misleading, so perhaps he was supplying his friend with more accurate maps for his journey.
|The atlas can then be traced to a Cistercian monastery in Mariawald,
fifty miles from Duisburg: in 1771 the atlas was rebound there by a Cistercian
monk called Alan Ortemans, who also made some repairs, added his own annotations
and an alphabetical index, and signed the front page. It has been
suggested that he also added the Ortelius and Ancona maps: certainly bear
the annotations in Mercator's hand that appear on some of the other maps.
The monastery had links to the von Gymnich family: many of the family are listed in the burial registers, and in 1605 Adam von Gymnich left a substancial but unspecified bequest to the monastery, which could have included this atlas. However the library of Mariawald was dispersed in 1797-98 and the Library Catalogue, which might have recordeed the source of the atlas, was lost. The atlas itself reappeared in a Belgian bookshop in 1967.
|The Wall-Map Of Europe
Published 1554, this is now the only known surviving example. Another copy, itself at one time thought to be the only survivor, disappeared in 1945 from Breslaw [Wroclaw in Poland].
|The Wall-Map of the British Isles, 1564.
Only three other examples are known, in Paris, Rome and Perugia, so this is the only one in Britain. R.A.Skelton called this map "a lanmark in the regional cartography of the British Isles", and "a striking advance both in accuracy... and in wealth of detail".
|Sections of the Wall-Map of the World (1569)
The Europe and Greenland sections of the world map appear in this atlas. Only three other examples of these sheets are known, in Paris, Basel and Rotterdam
One of three known examples (the others in Harvard and the Royal Library in Stockholm). Because of the initials "AB" in the bottom corner the map is accredited to Ambrosius Brambilla, whose work was issued between 1582-1602. This is the only map of the atlas to be printed on Italian-origin paper.