The Art and History of Globes

Farnese AtlasEven around the time of Pythagoras in the 6th century BC, the ancient Greeks thought that the earth was a sphere, with Plato (c.429–347BC), a little later, likening the earth to a leather ball. Similarly, the heavens were considered to be spherical in form, and the Farnese Atlas (right) shows Atlas, a Titan, holding the heavens, as a globe, on his shoulders.


Globe, 1606-21Globes were made before 1500, but very few have survived, and it was in the early 16th century that printed globes were made. This new publication, The Art and History of Globes, from the British Library is a detailed and lavishly illustrated book, beautifully designed. The author clearly knows her stuff, and covers the history of globes in a thorough and detailed way. The section on how globes were made is fascinating and one of the best sections in the book for any craftsperson. What follows then are page-after-page of stunning photography of globes, some enlarged over two pages with wonderful close-ups, and detailed information on each. The globe on the right was originally made in 1606 but revised to include the discoveries at the tip of South America in 1616.

Globe 3The North Pole on this globe from 1730 (right) is shown as ‘Parts Unknown’, but the East Coast of America depicts details of new discoveries. The prime meridian line goes through London rather than Greenwich, but after the founding of the Royal Observatory in 1675 at Greenwich astronomers and navigators began to use it as the base zero for longitude.




Globe 4This globe on the right was engraved by Thomas Bowen (c.1733–1790), and includes details of the recent discoveries around the North Pole. The distance from the sun from the equator throughout the year is also shown. However, this globe pre-dated Captain Cook’s voyages, so that part of the world is rather vague!





Globe 1Of course, globes were not just for the earth, but also for the heavens. This celestial globe on the right was made by Thomas Malby in 1869. It was in rather a poor state before it was repaired and conserved.

This wonderful book is not only essential reading for anyone interested in globes, the mapping of the world, and the engraving of maps for globes. But I also think this is a book that would be just the ticket for those who you just don’t know what to get them for Christmas or a birthday! Thoroughly recommended!