A History of Globes and Globemaking

The terrestrial globe (spherical map of the earth) is the only true cartographic representation of the earth and possesses several advantages over a flat map, for distances, directions, and areas are shown without the distortion that necessarily results from projecting the three-dimensional earth onto a
two-dimensional surface. Although the earth is not in actuality a perfect sphere (having a larger diameter at the equator than at the poles), the deviation is negligible at the scale of most globes. A celestial globe (spherical map of the heavens) takes the earth as its imaginary center in showing the positions of the stars.

The celestial globe has a longer history than the terrestrial globe. Greek and Roman authors mention the existence of celestial globes as well as instances of their use. Cicero, in his treatise De Republica, describes the use of one by Archimedes (287-212 BCE). The first terrestrial globe, on the other hand, was produced by Krates of Mallos, around 150 BCE. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the skills of geography and astronomy were carried on mainly in the Arab world, and it was from this region that globes were
reintroduced into Europe in the fifteenth century.

Nuremberg became the first major center of globe production in Europe - the earliest extant globe made there was a celestial globe made in 1444, and belonged to the mathematician and cardinal Nicolas of Cusa (1401-1464). The earliest surviving terrestrial globe from this time was made by Martin Behaim
(1459-1506) in 1492, and depicted the known world, a conception that was to be indelibly changed that very year by Columbus's voyage to the New World.

Like two-dimensional cartography, globemaking flourished in the Netherlands in the sixteenth century as the Dutch expanded their exploration and sea trade. Over the course of the seventeenth century, the
balance of power gradually shifted towards France, and by the end of the eighteenth century, English
cartographers and globemakers were the most prominent.

Globemaking techniques and materials have drastically evolved since the earliest globes, made in the Classical world, which were painted directly onto solid spheres. Islamic and Chinese globes were almost always composed of a hollow spherical shell of metal upon which the geographical information was engraved. European globes were heavily influenced by earlier Islamic globes. From these they took many
of their most basic features: the mounting of the sphere in a meridian ring, attached at the north and south poles; the setting of the whole within a horizon ring. Yet globemakers in Europe favored different methods and materials than their Islamic counterparts. Most Western globes from the sixteenth century on were made from a sphere composed of papier maché and plaster, which was then covered with strips of paper, called gores, upon which the cartographic images had been printed beforehand. In some cases, gores that were never assembled into a globe have survived, and some publishers even published them in book form, as finished works in and of themselves.

The innovation of assembling globes from gores streamlined and facilitated the process, and remained the favored method of globemaking until the twentieth century. The method developed in response to a
cultural movement that treated globes as symbols of status, education, and wealth. Starting with Lorenz Beheim's 1517 purchase of both a terrestrial and a celestial globe, early modern consumers generally bought pairs of globes, together representing the entirety of God's creation; a wealthy consumer could also purchase an armillary sphere, a three-dimensional model of the cosmos's geometry, which made explicit how the earth was tied inextricably to the heavens.


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