Slide #259

Laon Globe
It was Martin Behaim of Nuremberg (1459-1507), who, in so far as we have knowledge, constructed one of the first modern terrestrial globes, and it may, indeed, be said of his "Erdapfel," as he called it, that it is the oldest terrestrial globe extant (Slide #258). Globes in his age, and even earlier, were by no means unknown. Giovanni Campano (fl. 1261-64), a distinguished mathematician of Novara, wrote a Tractus de Sphera solida, in which he describes the manufacture of globes of wood or metal. Toscanelli, when writing his famous letter in 1474 (Slide #252), refers to a globe as being the best adapted for demonstrating the erroneous hypothesis as to the small distance which he supposed to separate the west of Europe from eastern Asia. Columbus, too, had a globe on board his vessel upon which was depicted Cipangu [Japan], and which may have been the work of his brother Bartholomew, who, according to Las Casas, produced charts as well as globes. But only two globes of a date anterior to the discovery of the New World have survived, namely the Behaim globe in Nürnberg, and a smaller one at the Depôt des planches et cartes de la marine, Paris, i.e., the Laon Globe.

The Laon globe, apparently following closely in time the Behaim's famous globe, is an engraved and gilded copper ball, having a diameter of 17 cm. There is evidence that at one time it was part of an astronomical clock. It is known as the "Laon Globe" because M. Léon Léroux picked it up, in 1860, in a curiosity shop in that town. The engraved surface, on which appear the outlines of continents and islands, is well preserved. It has two meridian circles, which intersect at right angles and which can be moved about a common axis, likewise a horizon circle which is movable. Numerous circles appear engraved on the surface of the ball, including meridians and parallels. The prime meridian passes through the Madeira Islands, a fact which suggests a Portuguese origin, since these islands are generally thought to have been discovered by Lusitanian seamen. One hundred and eighty degrees east of this prime meridian, a second meridian is engraved, equally prominent, passing through the middle of the continent of Asia, and go degrees still farther to eastward is a third. Each of these meridians is divided into degrees, which are grouped in fifths and are numbered by tens, starting at the equator. The meridians are intersected by a number of parallels, lightly engraved in the northern hemisphere, less distinct in the southern, and represent the seven climates employed by the cosmographers of the Greek and Roman period, as well as by those of the middle ages, in their division of the earth's surface.

As to its geographical representations and design, this terrestrial globe appears to be older than that of Martin Behaim, yet at the southern extremity of Africa we find the names Mons Niger and S. Thomas, inscribed with the legend Huc usque Portugalenses navigio pervenere 1493 , Cão's "furthest" in 1485. Therefore, notwithstanding its antiquated geographical features, it is estimated to originate approximately in the year 1493; although Ravenstein believes that the above legend could have been added quite easily long after the completion of the globe itself, a procedure by no means unknown among map publishers to bring items up-to-date.

LOCATION: Depôt des planches et cartes de la marine, Paris

*Nordenskiöld, A.E., Facsimile Atlas, pp. 73-74, Figure 41.
*Ravenstein, E.G., Martin Behaim, p. 57.
Stevenson, E.L., Terrestrial and Celestrial Globes, pp. 51-52.
*Winsor, J., Narrative and Critical History of America, pp. 56, 101


Index of Late Medieval Maps