2009 Catalog, William R. Talbot Fine Art, Antique Maps & Prints Home

2009 Catalog > 6. Mercator, “Hispaniae Novae Nova Descriptio.”

6. Gerardus Mercator / Jodicus Hondius. “Hispaniae Novae Nova Descriptio” (Amsterdam: 1623 [1606]). Published in Atlas sive Cosmographicae, also known as the Mercator-Hondius atlas. Latin text edition. Copperplate engraving with exquisite original hand color and gold leaf highlights. 13 3/4 x 19" at neat line. Sheet: 19 1/4 x 23 1/4." Three highly decorative cartouches. Verso: description of New Spain, pp. 365366. Overall very fine condition with light age toning. A superb example.


Mercator’s map of New Spain was drawn from the seminal map of Ortelius. The Ortelius map first appeared in the 1579 Latin edition of his atlas, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, often referred to as “the first modern atlas.” The sources for the original map were not indicated and remain to this day a subject of debate among scholars. Nevertheless, Ortelius’s map remained the most authoritative model of New Spain for decades through the highly influential Mercator-Hondius editions, which were issued until 1634. In this 1623 edition of the map, the information overall remains true to the Ortelius model. Decorative embellishments have been added, including a sea monster and ship in the “Mexican Sea,” as well as a cartouche with distance scales. The luxurious and beautifully colored title cartouche makes this an extraordinary edition.

The map effectively documents the Spanish expansion to the west coast of Mexico, highlighting the region of Nueva Galicia, where Coronado had served as governor. The coastal region of Mexico is mapped from present-day Puerto Vallarta to “Acapilco” (Acapulco). The interior of New Spain is detailed to Mexico City, with inland lakes, rivers and settlements, and Spanish missions marked by cathedral icons. Mexico City is pictured at the edge of its former twin lakes.

Flemish by birth, Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598) became geographer to the king of Spain in 1575, whereby his access to Spanish maps gave him the means to create a more complete image of the New World than had previously been disseminated. A brilliant thinker, Ortelius offered the very first theory of continental drift, published in Thesaurus geographicus (1596). Gerardus Mercator (1512-94) was a mathematician who revolutionized the world of map-making with a cartographic system known as Mercator’s projection. Mercator and Ortelius were contemporaries and associates, close enough that history records it was through Mercator’s encouragement that Ortelius pursued the creation of his important atlas, first issued in 1570. Mercator went on himself to produce a number of atlases, beginning in 1578. In 1604, Jodicus Hondius (1563-1612) purchased the plates of Mercator’s Atlas and soon after reissued the work, with revisions and additional images. The atlas was an enormous success, establishing the Hondius family firmly in Amsterdam map publishing for generations. The “Mercator-Hondius series” remains famous.

This map is a example of one of the earliest and most influential models for the mapping of Mexico—a beautiful and important map from the heyday of Dutch decorative cartography.

Ref.: Wolff, America: Early Maps of the World (1992), plate 110 [Ortelius model]; Schwartz & Ehrenberg, pp. 106108.

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