Nicolaes van Geelkercken

(c1585–1656)

Nicolaes van Geelkercken (c1585-1656) and Arnold di Arnoldi (died 1602)

As his name suggests, Nicolaes Van Geelkercken, was born in Geilenkirchen, a small town in Germany. His brother, Arnold van Ssherpenseel (c1570-1602), who was also known as Arnold di Arnoldi, or Arnold Geelkercken, settled in Venice (by way of the Holy Land) in the 1590s, and worked as an engraver of maps and scientific instruments for Bolognese mathematician and cartographer Giovanni Antonio Magini. In about 1599–1600 Arnold was joined in Italy by both of his brothers, Nicolaes and Jacobo. It is during this time that they began work on their large wall map of the Holy Land, Terrae Sanctae seu Terrae Promissionis nova descriptio’. Burden reports that in early 1600 Arnold moved to Sienna, where he produced two world maps (a large-scale ten-sheet map and a smaller two-sheet map) as well as a set of the four continents. Unfortunately, the work remained unfinished upon the death of Arnold in 1602. Nicolaes then left Italy and settled in Amsterdam in 1603. 

In these relatively early years in Amsterdam, Nicolaes was apprenticed as a cartographer, engraver and colourer of maps, perhaps in Jodocus Hondius’s workshop, with whose extended family circle he was to collaborate on several projects later in life. By 1610, he was setting up on his own, and publishing his first of two very decorative world maps, Universi Orbis Tabula De-lntegro Delineata’.

At the same time, Geelkercken’s hometown became embroiled in the Julich – Kleves succession crisis, a conflict that turned into a confessional struggle involving all the major European powers” (Helmers). Suddenly, compelled to share the truth of the conflict with a local and international audience, he established a substantial business illustrating, writing, translating, printing, and publishing broadsides illustrated with maps, that were the forerunner of the modern newspaper. Much of what Geelkercken reported was based on his own eye-witness accounts, as he followed the army on their summer campaigns, probably accompanied by his son Jacobo.

Van Geelkercken’s second map of the world, Orbis terrarum descriptio duobis planis hemisphaeriis comprehensa’ was engraved in 1617 by Johannes Janssonius, Hondius’ son-in-law. Based on the first, it was published just as Nicolaes moved to Leiden, where he first rented and then, once his business was a success, bought a house on the Rapenburg. There he collaborated with historian and cartographer Petrus Bertius, and geographer at the university, Philippus Cluverius. His most famous work during this time was the publication of the almanac De Italiaense Waer-segger’ (1621). The series claimed to be based on the papers of the same Magini for whom his brother had worked.