After the wooden hemispheric moulds, the layers of papier-mâché, and the plaster, there was the tricky business of applying sections of flat printed maps (‘gores’ is the technical term) to a spherical surface. The customer expected perfection (he or she was usually spending a great deal of money), so any signs of distortion or join marks were unacceptable.
In this beautifully illustrated book, Sylvia Sumira tells us all about how globes were manufactured and the cultural role that they played: having a matching pair of terrestrial and celestial globes from a good maker was, for several hundred years, a sure sign of wealth or intellectual inquisitiveness or both. It’s also possible to trace European conceptualisations of the world and the advance of geographical and technological knowledge by looking closely at what appeared on these wonderful artefacts through the decades.
The majority of the items under discussion come from the British Library’s rich collections but there are many treats from farther afield and the result is a scintillating, scholarly introduction to a neglected topic. We’re lucky that so many fine examples of the globe maker’s art survive in pristine condition, although, oddly enough, the damaged specimens are sometimes the real treasure troves. A gaping hole allows us to explore the layers beneath the surface and understand how these astonishing objects were created.
These days, globes are usually regarded as pretty furniture, but there was a time when they were prized scientific instruments that encapsulated humanity’s shifting understanding of the world.
THE ART AND HISTORY OF GLOBES by Sylvia Sumira, British Library, £30