Sphaerae Mundi: Early Globes at the Stewart Museum
Book Review © George D. Glazer 2001
published in Imago Mundi: The International Journal for the History of Cartography (July 2001, Vol. 53)
Sphaerae Mundi: Early Globes at the Stewart Museum. By Edward H. Dahl and Jean-Francois Gauvin. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000. ISBN 0773521666. French edition, Sillery, Quebec: Septention, 2000. ISBN 2894481594.
“Globes do not travel easily, but books do,” advises Mrs. David M. Stewart, president of The Stewart Museum in Montreal, Quebec, in the Foreward to Sphaerae Mundi. Perhaps the Museum’s early 18th-century British pocket globe by Charles Price is portable but certainly not the Collection’s late 17th-century Coronelli globe — a colossal 108 cm. (42 1/2 – inch) diameter terrestrial sphere supported by the upraised hands of elaborately carved Baroque wooden figures.
Sphaerae Mundi, written by Edward Dahl, a specialist in early cartography formerly at the National Archives of Canada, and Jean-François Gauvin, Curator of Scientific Collections at the Stewart Museum, examines the Museum’s vast antique Continental and English globe collection (circa 1530s to 1850s), together with related atlases and works of art. These were shown in an exhibition entitled “Yes! The World is Round” (February 2000 to March 2001). For the exhibit, the Museum tapped the skills of French designer Bruno Donzet, who created the illusion of outer space with the use of fiber optics that created a star-filled entrance to the globe display. The book served as a useful guide for those who were privileged to see the exhibition. It now serves an excellent reference book on this large globe collection that heretofore was largely unknown. And, of course, the book easily travels – and should – into the library of anyone interested in the history of globes and of cartography.
Peter van der Krogt, one of the world’s leading contemporary globe scholars contributes the book’s introduction, tracing the history of globes from ancient Greece and Rome, and describing cartographic and construction aspects of globes. An interesting section, relating to the use of globes to show the earth as being round, examines the notion that people in the Middle Ages thought the earth was flat. According to van der Krogt, this was actually a myth popularized in the 19th century by Washington Irving (1783-1859) in his 1828 biography on Christopher Columbus, and by French historical geographer Antoine-Jean Letronne (1787-1848).
Robert Derome, art historian at the Université du Quebec à Montreal, contributed an introductory section entitled “An Art Historian’s Approach to Globes.” In this novel section, Derome categorizes and describes the stands of the various globes in the collection, an often overlooked subject. He also analyzes paintings from the collection showing people with globes, and describes artistic aspects of the cartouches and cartography on celestial and terrestrial globes. Of particular interest to cartographers is a section describing the iconography of title pages of printed atlases, which generally feature classical figures and globes. Derome provides a fresh perspective on globes, which, of course, is fitting, since globes are an interdisciplinary field, encompassing art, decorative arts, scientific instruments, and cartography.
Following these introductory sections, the book is divided into six chapters, organized by globes of The Netherlands, England, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and France. These chapters offer an introduction to globe making in each of the respective countries, followed by extensive detailed analysis of globes and planetaria in the Stewart Collection and the famous cartographers involved in their production. Accompanying the text are numerous fine quality color photographs of examples from the collection, with close-up pictures of cartographic details.
The text generally focuses on the history of cartography, often relating to Canada (a specialty and passion of the authors and the location of the Stewart Museum). For example, they give a critical review of the cartography on an early 19th-century French terrestrial globe in the collection, illustrated by a color picture:
“The fact that Charles Francois Delamarche was a lawyer and not a cartographer may account for several shortcomings of this 1801 globe. In northern Canada, the important discoveries of Alexander Mackenzie (associated with the Mackenzie River) are missing, even though others (including La Perouse, whom he mentions as a source) had already publicized them.”
Such detailed cartographic analysis will no doubt be of considerable interest to map historians, especially those with a keen interest in North America. Yet, the book’s simple organization and detailed photographs should be of great appeal to the general reader and casual globe, geography, or astronomy enthusiast as well.
Although the book is a celebration of this impressive Collection, the authors offer refreshingly candid views, devoting painstaking attention to issues of authenticity and completeness, and offering conservative attributions of globes of ambiguous date or origin. For example, in discussing a 17th-century armillary sphere, the authors leave open the question of whether it may in fact be a later reproduction. Similarly, the authors evaluate an interesting celestial globe originally attributed to the German globe maker, Johann George Puschner, more conservatively describing it as an anonymous 18th- century star globe, probably Dutch.
Sphaerae Mundi is an excellent portable globe reference – a general survey of Continental and British globes from fresh, critical and varied perspectives. It is part of a current trend to examine important globe collections around the world – Elly Dekker’s Globes at Greenwich: A Catalogue of the Globes and Armillary Spheres in the National Maritime Museum, published in 1999, being another notable example. As such, it is a welcome addition to scholarship in one of the most long-ignored fields in cartography – the terrestrial and celestial globe.