Despite the success of Mayer's publications of views of the Ottoman Empire, very little is known about his early life. He was born in Germany and lived for several years in Rome where he was a pupil of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Records in the Libro de decreti of the Academy of San Luca also show that in 1771 he received a prize for drawing. It was shortly after this time that Mayer met Sir Robert Ainslie (circa 1732-1812), an enthusiastic antiquarian and ambassador to the Sublime Port between 1776 and 1792. Sir Robert employed him as his personal artist and in the early 1780s Mayer travelled to Constantinople to begin his commissions. On arrival he drew profusely, recording the sights and customs of the surrounding area.
In 1796 Mayer accompanied Ainslie on his return to England and settled with his family in London. It was then that his drawings were engraved by Thomas Milton (1743-1827) and compiled into three volumes of aquatints published by Robert Bowyer as Views in Egypt... (1801), Views in Palestine... (1802), and Views in the Ottoman Empire, chiefly Caramania... (1803). Despite his death in 1803, Mayer's wife Clara continued to oversee the publication and re-issue of his work, including a fourth volume of aquatints (an amalgamation of the earlier three) entitled Views in Egypt, Palestine, and other parts of the Ottoman Empire.
In 1809 Ainslie sold his collection of original drawings by Mayer, a large number of which are now in the Searight Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
This drawing shows the tomb of Amyntas at Fethiye, the town built on the ancient city of Telemessos. It is one of the largest and most elaborate of the many rock tombs in this part of Turkey, carved by the Lycians during the fourth Century BC.