Map Maker Biography: Jodocus Hondius the Elder (1563 - 1612)

Jodocus Hondius the Elder is often referred to as the most worthy successor of Gerard Mercator, not only for his own talent as a cartographer, artist and engraver, but also for having revived the importance of his friend and colleague Mercator’s work, which had been significantly overshadowed by the multitudinous popular editions of Abraham Ortelius’ Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. Hondius respected and admired the work of the great Mercator, a true cartographic pioneer whose career, perhaps unfortunately, coincided with that of Abraham Ortelius. Whilst establishing his own career, Hondius also sought to reestablish Mercator’s place in the canon of great cartographers of the era and he was indeed instrumental in restoring Mercator’s rightful place in history, albeit posthumously, when he republished Mercator’s Atlas in 1606 with some important new material of his own. This revived Mercator/Hondius Atlas became a powerful influence in 17th century cartography, and remained one for several decades. This map of China is from Hondius' Atlas. 

Hondius' Early career

Hondius started his career in Holland, then moved to London in 1583 where he worked engraving maps and charts with information brought back from mariners. His work for the map publisher Edward Wright brought him into contact with great explorers including Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh. He engraved the copper plates for the first terrestrial globes made in England, and worked there until 1593, before returning to Amsterdam where he became one of the most distinguished of Dutch cartographers and publishers of maps and globes. Hondius was also known for his artistic talents, especially regarding Sir Francis Drake, whose circumnavigation of the globe drew wide acclaim. Hondius publicized Drake’s accomplishments, tracking the routes of his voyages and illustrating a number of Drake’s stops along the way. Some of his best-known works are his early maps of the New World, his illustrations of some of Drake’s exploits, and his portraits of Drake himself.

America by Jodocus Hondius the Elder 1609 

Sir Francis Drake by Jodocus Hondius the Elder

Return to Holland

Following Hondius’ return to Holland, he published his Atlas and the smaller Atlas Minor in the early seventeenth century. They drew heavily on the work of Mercator and were well-received, establishing Hondius' influence in his homeland, while reminding western Europe of the great cartographer’s prodigious contributions.

The Mercator-Hondius Atlas was composed of maps from the plates Hondius had purchased from Mercator's grandson, as well as thirty-six new plates which Hondius had commissioned, and in many cases engraved himself. Hondius is also believed to have been the chief engraver of John Speed's plates for his Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. The great Dutch artist Vermeer often used the maps and globes of Hondius the Elder in his paintings.

Following his death, Hondius was succeeded by his sons, Jodocus the Younger and Henricus, and his son-in-law Jan Jansson. Hondius was one of the central figures in the development of the Golden Age of Dutch/Netherlandish cartography (c. 1570s–1670s).  He helped establish Amsterdam as the center of cartography in Europe in the 17th century.

Gerard Mercator’s Cosmography

Gerard Mercator had conceived his Atlas or Cosmography in mid-life in 1563, when employed as cosmographer to Duke William IV of Kleve, just seven years before the first publication of the Theatrum of Ortelius. During the interim between conception and realization, the publication of Ortelius’ Theatrum in 1570 quickly took Europe by storm, and was eventually published in 33 editions in seven languages. The world map in Theatrum was based on that of Gerard Mercator, as were a number of other maps. This important and influential Mercator map of the world was first printed in Geneva in 1587 while Gerard Mercator was still alive, and again in 1620 by Jodocus Hondius the Younger.

Mercator’s hope was to publish a work consisting of five volumes which would illuminate the entire world and its history. From the first through the fifth they would cover the creation according to his interpretation of the biblical account, the heavens, geography, history and finally, chronology. It was his intent to draw each map, write all text in its entirety and to engrave the plates himself – a huge undertaking which he did not complete in his lifetime despite living to the venerable age of 82 (1512-1594).  It fell to Mercator’s son Rumold to complete and publish the Cosmography and for Hondius the Elder to remind the world of Mercator and his contributions.

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