Giovio Globes
DISCUSSION » Full Discussion

Initial Comments

The present owner purchased this pair (celestial and terrestrial) of globes at an auction of miscellaneous household items in 1982 at the Manhattan Galleries (since defunct) in New York City. The globes (hereinafter referred to as the Giovio Globes) had been miscataloged as 18th Century, but any knowledgeable observer would have seen immediately that they were either real 16th century globes or copies of 16th century globes. There were no direct indications on either globe as to the date of manufacturer or as to the cartographer. The sole cartouche on the celestial globe (visible at left) was totally blank. The sole cartouche on the terrestrial globe had been overpainted with the Visconti arms, obscuring all but a few letters within the cartouche.

Subsequent extensive research by the owner has established that the globes are, in fact, 16th century, probably produced in Northern Italy ca. 1550-1570.  The celestial globe, with the exception of one intriguing variant, is a very close copy, identical in size, to Caspar Vopel’s celestial globe of 1536.  The terrestrial globe is clearly based on Gerard Mercator’s 1541 terrestrial globe, but is smaller in size, its geographical configuration, toponomy and legends closely following those of Mercator’s earlier work.  However, in certain regions, the Giovio Globe’s geography has been changed to reflect important explorations subsequent to 1541, including those of Coronado, Orellana, Cabrillo and Valdavia. The close correspondence of these changes (and the text of some new legends, as well) with the geography found on Giacomo Gastaldi’s 1561 World Map, suggest a close relationship between the Giovio Globes and the preeminent Italian cartographer.

The Giovio Globes are identical in size, measuring 11.5 inches (29 cm.) in diameter. Both globes sit in four posted wooden stands that seem somewhat undersized relative to the globes and are probably of later origin. Both stands have manuscript horizon rings that are based on the Gregorian calendar, a fact that suggests a later date for the rings, as well.

The globes are in good condition, considering their presumed age. On the terrestrial globe, there are some obvious restorations in the Mediterranean (where there must have been some serious losses) and in South America (a repair of a sizable crack). The eastern hemisphere, particularly in the north, is very dirty and somewhat difficult to read. In addition, the oceans would appear to have been painted blue at some point subsequent to manufacture. In addition, the occasional gilding, as well as the red outlining of the continents of the terrestrial globe, also appears to be a post manufacture change, possibly added at the time of the restoration. On the celestial globe, the sky, except for the constellations and blank cartouche, has been painted blue (a different blue from the oceans in the terrestrial globe) by a later hand.

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Paolo Giovio

On the bottom of the stand of each globe is, among other markings, the following label: “Proveniente della racocolta del Marchese Ordones de Rosales per eredita Giovio di Como.”  A business card of the Milanese antique dealer, E. Imbert, is also pasted to the bottom of each stand.

At the request of the present owner, the Manhattan galleries contacted the seller of the globe, who wished to remain anonymous.  The seller stated that he had bough the globes in Milan in the 1950’s.  A 1987 visit to Imbert’s Milan store produced no additional information, as the owner was not present at the time of the visit.  Initial research at the Ordones de Rosales family archives confirmed that the globes were in the possession of that family, in a villa in Bernate in the 1930’s.  The research also confirmed that the Ordones de Rosales family, particularly through their connection to the Cigilini family, had intermarried at several stages with descendents of Paolo Giovio.  More work remains to be done in the Ordones de Rosales archives.

It is very possible that the famous Renaissance historian Paolo Giovio (d.1553), given his well known interest in geography, would have owned a pair of globes. Giovio had a deep interest in geography; he once owned the Cellere Codex, now in the possession of the Morgan Library, which records Verrazanno's epic 1524 voyage, as well as a Battista Agnese atlas now owned by the University of Pennsylvania. Moreover, Ramusio's Navigationi et Viaggi includes a description of Moscovie written by Giovio. In addition, Giovio’s heirs, his nephew Allesandro and his great nephew Paolo Juniore, shared their uncle’s interest in geography. Yet neither Giovio's will, nor those of his immediate heirs mentions any globes. This is not surprising, though, as these wills generally focus on expensive household and personal items. None of the documents reviewed, for instance, mention the Agnese Atlas, auctioned by Christie’s in 1976 and clearly once owned Giovio. Again, more work needs to be done with the wills and inventories of Giovio’s heirs

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Emanuele Filiberto

Using infrared reflectography, it was possible to read through much of the overpainted cartouche (see below, left and center on the terrestrial globe to conclude that the obscured text represented a dedication to Emanuele Filiberto, Duke of Savoy.  Reference to the matching terrestrial globe at the Museo Astronomico e Copernicano di Roma (see below, right) revealed the exact text of the globe’s as transcribed below.


“A SERENISSIMVM / EMANUELEM PHI- / LIBE[RTUM] Sabau- / di[ensum] Et  Subal / pinoru[m] Duce[m].” 

Emanuele Filiberto ruled as Duke of Savoy (and Piedmont) from 1553 to 1580 and also served as Governor General of the Netherlands from 1555 to 1559. Of course this dedication to Filiberto would seem to conflict somewhat with the idea that Paolo Giovio, rather than one of his descendents, once owned the globes, as Giovio died in January of the year that Filiberto became Duke of Savoy.   


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A Matching Pair of Globes at the Meseo Astromomico e Copernicano di Roma

For many years, The Museo Astronomico e Copernicano di Roma owned a set of globes that matched the Giovio Globes.  Their existence was noted by Mateo Fiorini in his survey of Italian Globes, Sphere terresti e celesti di autore italiano… (Rome 1899).  In a footnote on page 284, Fiorini refers to a pair of globes that had recently passed into the hands of the Museum.  These globes were the same size (90 cm. in circumference) as the Giovio Globes (and as Vopel’s 1536 celestial globe, see below).  More importantly, Fiorini notes that the terrestrial globe had a dedication to Emanuele Filiberto that he reported as Philibertum Sabaudiensum Et Subalpinorum Ducem

With regard to the celestial globe, Fiorini states “It does not have an inscription from which we can deduce the date and the name of the author.  We can read only lìlìistriss. Domini Hieronymi de Boncompagnis.”  Fiorini speculated that the celestial globe is dedicated to one William de Boncpompagni, nephew of the illustrious Hugo Boncompagni (who reigned as Pope Gregory XIII from 1572 to 1585). 

Fiorini’s report of the inscriptions, both seemingly incomplete, suggests that he had not seen the Roman globes and that he did not receive a fully accurate transcription from whoever supplied the text to him.   

The globes in question were, indeed, purchased in Bologna on November 22, 1896 on behalf of the recently established Museo Copernicano for the sum of 10 lira.  They remained in the Museum’s collection from their date of purchase until May 20, 1984, at which time they were stolen.  Fortunately, the Museum was able to recover the terrestrial globe in May of 1985, though without its stand and in a sadly dilapidated state.  The celestial globe has not been recovered.

An inspection of the terrestrial globe (Many thanks here to Mariella Calisi, Director of the Museum, for her generous cooperation) confirmed that the Rome globe is a close variant of the Giovio terrestrial globe.  The engraving and geography of the Rome Globe are identical to that of the Giovio globe, with the exception of the West Coast of North America which has been reworked to correct the stubby, inaccurate treatment on the Giovio Globe of the Peninsula of Lower California (See further analysis below).  This variation, rather clumsily executed but probably the work of the author of the Giovio Globe, indicates that the Rome Globe was produced after the Giovio Globe.  Examination of the Rome globe revealed the exact dedicatory inscription of the Giovio Globe, as well as the delineation, toponomy and text of various damaged areas of the Giovio Globe. 

The Rome celestial globe remains lost, but a description in the Museum’s 1982 catelogue confirms that its size and configuration matches that of the Giovio celestial globe.  The dedication (“Illustriss,Domini/…de / Boncompagnis”) appears within the cartouche in the Southern Hemisphere which is blank on the Giovio Globe.  Note that the identification of the surname “Hieronymi” is missing from the catalogue description, suggesting that, perhaps, Fiorini’s reception of the inscription was partially in error.

The Celestial Globe

To a great extent, the NY celestial globe appears to be a very close variant of Caspar Vopel’s celestial globe of 1536. At 29 cm in diameter, the Giovio Globe is the same size as Vopel’s original globe, as well as that of two sets engraved gores, now in the Nicolai Collection of the Wurttembergische Landesbibliothek (Stuttgart), that were copied from the Vopel original. More importantly, the positions and depictions of the constellations on the Giovio Globe are, for the most part, nearly identical to those of the Vopel globe. See the following example (NY above, Vopel below):

At a first glance, these two depictions of Leo (and the respective depictions of the other constellations, as well) seem almost indistinguishable from each other. Close examination, though, reveals many distinct, if not so readily apparent, differences. For instance, note the difference in the respective lettering of “Tropicus Cancri,” or the use of the short “s’ in Asini and Praesepe in the Giovio Globe versus the long “s” in the Vopel globe. Further inspection will reveal other subtle differences, as in the shading of the recumbent Leo or the presence of cross hatching in the degrees of the elliptic of the NY globe and the absence of such cross hatching on the Vopel globe.

One obvious difference between the two globes is that the Giovio Globe does not have the identifying cartouche found above Auriga on the Vopel globe. The Giovio Globe also lacks many of the star names that appear on the Vopel globe. On the other hand, the Giovio Globe, unlike the Vopel globe, labels both the Arctic and Antarctic circles, as well as the winter solstitial colure (SOLSTITIO) and the vernal equinoctica colure (COLURUS).

But the most interesting and revealing difference between the two globes is the appearance of a seated male youth (Phaeton) at the end of the river Eridanus on the Giovio Globe. (See below, left):


This figure is not included on the Vopel globe, or in the Nicolai Collection gores that copy the Vopel globes. The first known appearance of such a figure occurs on globe gores published by Francois Demongenet about 1560 (See above right, from a set of gores by Demongenet, now in Nicolai Collection). This seated male figure is part of the so-called Demongenet tradition, which includes many globes and gores produced subsequent to 1560. Two star/cluster names present on the Giovio Globe but not on the Vopel globe, ACARNAR and HIRCVS, also fall within the Demongenet tradition.

To conclude, the celestial Giovio Globe, to a great extent, is based, on the 1536 Caspar Vopel celestial globe, but with an important variation identified with the later Demongenet tradition in globe making. While it is possible that the depiction of Phaeton on the Giovio Globe and on the Demongenet 1560 globe are derived from a common, earlier source (or even that Demongenet copied from the Giovio Globe), it seems more likely that the Giovio Globe’s Phaeton figure is copied from the Demongenet globe. Such a conclusion would suggest a date subsequent to 1560 for the manufacture of the NY celestial globe, a date inconsistent with the possibility that the globe once belonged Paolo Giovio, but consistent with the globe’s dedication to Emanuel Filiberto. Placement of the Giovio Globe within the Demongenet tradition, which was most widespread throughout southern France and Northern Italy, is also consistent with the hypothesis developed below, that the globes are of Northern Italian origin.

For a table of constellations with images of specific constellations, follow this link.

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Terrestrial Globe

The Geography of the Terrestrial Globe

As may be seen in the example below, the Giovio terrestrial globe follows very closely the geography of Gerard Mercator’s 1541 terrestrial globe.


A closer look at this detail, though, shows a significant difference. On the Giovio Globe, above the word “HISPANIA’” a river, labeled indistinctly and upside down as "S. Anna" (?), winds inland towards some mountains. No such river or mountains appear of the Mercator Globe. The plate appears to have been reworked in this area. 

In a similar manner, throughout the Giovio Globe, the configuration of the continents appears nearly identical to that of the Mercator 1541 globe, but a close look reveals numerous differences, of which the most critical are listed below. A more detailed discussion of each of these differences, any one of which may offer important clues concerning the date of and place of origin of the globe, may be accessed through the Giovio/Mercator Variance Table & Discussion

  1. As discussed above, The Giovio Globe has a curious variation from the Mercator Globe along the eastern coast of North America, at about 45 degrees north latitude.
  2. The Mercator Globe shows Greenland attached to North America while the Giovio Globe shows a passage between Greenland and present day Canada.
  3. On the Giovio Globe, the northwest coast and southwest plains of North America have many place names whereas on the Mercator the west coast above present day Guatemala, as well as southwest America, is blank. In addition the Giovio Globe contains an inscription, accompanied by a vignette, which clearly relates to buffalo.
  4. The Giovio Globe shows a long and named Amazon River, not present on the Mercator Globe.
  5. On the Giovio Globe, the west coast of South America has many place names whereas on the Mercator the coast is blank below latitude 10 degrees south.
  6. On the Mercator Globe, the Southern Continent (“QUINTA…”) extends northwards to the East Indies well above the Tropic of Capricorn, while it terminates well below the Tropic on the Giovio Globe.
  7. In addition in Antarctica, the Giovio Globe shows numerous rivers (some named) and mountain ranges in the area beneath South America where there is almost nothing on the Mercator Globe.
  8. Several Pacific islands on the Giovio Globe are absent from the Mercator Globe.

Clearly most of these differences relate to European exploration subsequent to the 1541 issuance of the Mercator globe, including Orellana’s 1541-1542 descent of the Amazon, Valdivia’s 1540-1547 explorations of western South America, Cabrillo’s 1542-1543 coasting of the western North America and Coronado’s 1540-1542 exploration of the American Southwest.

The results of the above noted explorations are also recorded on a series of Italian maps, beginning with Giacomo Gastaldi's nine sheet world map of 1561. The close correspondence between the geography, toponomy (see discussion below) and selected inscriptions (again, see below) of the Gastaldi 1561 world map and the those same elements of the Giovio Globe (where those elements depart from their Mercator prototypes) suggest a close relationship between the Gastaldi Map and the Giovio Globe.

Still, the overall geographic configuration of the NY Globe follows closely that of the Mercator globe. Almost all of the name places and inscriptions of the Mercator Globe are included on the New York Globe. In addition, where the Giovio Globe records new discoveries, as in the extensive new toponomy along the western coasts of North and South America, it simply overlays its new names along the coasts drawn by Mercator. Also, the Giovio Globe's separation of Mercator's Greenland from North America results in a strait of very modest size. Some slight hint of Cartier's explorations in Canada may possibly be seen in a slightly enlarged river emptying in the proximity of the Gulf of St Lawrence. Only in the truncation of the Terra Australis extending northwards towards the East Indies does the Giovio Globe change significantly the continental outlines of its Mercator prototype and, here, the engraving appears clumsy, as if done in a hurried revision. Thus, overall, it would seem that the Giovio Globe is a close derivative of the Mercator, but one that also shows an important connection to Italian cartography of the mid century.

Specific areas of the Giovio Globe may be selected and viewed through the Master Terrestrial Table or compared with their Mercator counterparts through Mercator Comapison Table.  To go directly to the above-noted areas where the Giovio terrestrial globe differs markedly from its Mercator prototype, please follow the link to the Giovio/Mercator Variance Table & Discussion. To view several of these areas in comparison to the same areas on closely related Italian flat maps, please link to the Giovio Globe Italian Correspondence Table. This second table may also be of use in researching the Toponymy of the Giovio Globe.

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The Revised Treatment of Lower California on the Matching Rome Globe

As mentioned earlier, the matching Rome terrestrial globe differs from the Giovio globe in only one respect; it shows an extensive Peninsula of Lower California.

This absence of a Lower California Peninsula on the Giovio Globe and its subsequent addition of the Rome globe raise some interesting issues.  Depictions of the Peninsula began to appear in European maps about the year 1545. More importantly, the Gastaldi World Map of 1561 has an extensive Lower California Peninsula. If the Giovio Terrestrial Globe post dates the Gastaldi Map, why did its maker not include the Peninsula in the initial edition?  True, the globe’s author was, for the most part, very faithful to Mercator’s delineations, but he did show himself willing to make extensive corrections to Mercator’s misguided concepts in the region of the Beach/Malatur peninsula.    

A comparison of toponyms (See link to California Toponyms Table) shows that the revised peninsula of the Rome Globe shares several toponyms with the Gastaldi World Map of 1561.  On the other hand, the Rome Globe contains two toponyms (Basos and Ancora) that appear in Gastaldi’s 1546 map of Nueva Hispania, but not on his 1561 World Map.  This fact could be interpreted to indicate that even the revised Rome globe predated the Gastaldi 1561 World Map.

Further support for the idea that the Giovio Globe predates the Gastaldi 1561 World Map can be found in two other aspects of the globe.  First, as noted earlier, there is little indication of the Saint Lawrence River on the Giovio Globe, but this river is prominent in Gastaldi’s 1561 World Map.  Second, the Gastaldi World Map has several legends throughout Western and Central North America.  The Giovio globe has only one such inscription, despite an apparent horror vacui on the part of its author.


Just as with its geography, the toponomy of the Giovio Globe follows very closely that of its Mercator prototype, but with two very important exceptions.

First, both the 1541 Mercator terrestrial globe and the Giovio Globe have large cartouches in the Atlantic Ocean containing a numbered list of European cities that serves to locate numerous European cities, cities that would otherwise be impossible to locate due to the overcrowding. Each number in each cartouche is matched by a number on the continent of Europe at the approximate location of the respective city. As can be seen on the accompanying European Name Place Table, the two lists are essentially identical, but with one vital difference. On the New York globe, the list of Italian cities has been expanded and reordered, and the addition of Verona, Mantua, Ferrara, Siena and Perugia reinforces the suspicion that the globe may be of Italian origin.

Second, and most obviously, the toponomy (as well as the geography, see above) of newly discovered regions on the Giovio Globe differ totally from that of its earlier prototype. The toponomy of several selected regions may be viewed by clicking on the links below: The first four links related to newly discovered regions, while the last two links refer to areas where the Giovio Globe follows closely the toponomy of the Mercator Globe:

  1. The West Coast of North America
  2. The West Coast of South America
  3. The Amazon River
  4. Antarctica (not newly discovered, but treated more extensively on the Giovio Globe)
  5. East Coast of North America
  6. Gulf Coast of North America

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Legends & Inscriptions

An examination of the terrestrial globe’s numerous legends and inscriptions provides important hints as to its origin. As might be expected, the globe shares many legends and inscriptions with its 1541 Mercator prototype. A number of these shared inscriptions are listed in the accompanying Master Table of Legends and Inscriptions, shaded in light green and light blue.

Of greater interest are six inscriptions found on the Giovio Globe, but not on the 1541 Mercator globe, each bordered in light red in the accompanying Master Table. Each of these inscriptions is also included, with additional material, in a Special Inscriptions Table (link).

All six of these inscriptions appear on Giacomo Gastaldi’s nine sheet world map of 1561, although the Gastaldi inscriptions, are in Italian, not Latin. Several of these Italian inscriptions also appear on various Paolo Forlani maps of the 1560's. However two of the inscriptions (the "buffalo" inscription in North America and the "spirits" inscription in Siberia) do not appear on any Forlani map. Thus the Giovio Globe's inscriptions reinforce its close connection to the Gastaldi world map.

It cannot be determined, at this point, whether the Giovio Globe’s inscriptions predate the Gastaldi inscriptions or visa versa. The ultimate source for the "spirits" inscription is Marco Polo, but that fact is not helpful in determining which "spirits" inscription is the earliest. The source for the "buffalo" inscription is more difficult to determine. While Francisco Lopez de Gomera’s 1553 historia de la conquista de Mexico has a description of buffalos, it is not as elaborate as that in the globe's inscription, nor does the accompanying illustration resemble the globe's buffalo. Pedro de Casteneda de Najera in his Relation du Voyage de Cibola, entrepris en 1540 offers a description very close to that of the inscription, but his account was not published until the 19th century. Perhaps the maker of the globe had access to a manuscript version of his relation. Finally, as noted earlier it should be noted that the Gastaldi 1561 map has numerous inscription throughout North America. If the Gastaldi map, in fact, predated the Giovio terrestrial globe, why did only a single Gastaldi inscription find its way onto the Giovio Globe in the otherwise empty expanse of North America?  

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The Prime Meridian

In both the Mercator and the Giovio globe, the prime meridian, following Ptolemaic practice, passes through the Canary Islands. However, Mercator has drawn his prime meridian as a simple line, no different from any other longitudinal line, while the creator of the Giovio Globe has chosen to emphasize his prime meridian by thickening it and by dividing it into degrees. By contrast, Mercator gives equal emphasis to the equator and the ecliptic, while the ecliptic on the Giovio Globe is only a thin line labeled zodiacus. Three sets of numbers, in approximate horizontal columns, appear to the left of the Giovio Globe’s prime meridian.  Similar columns of numbers, actual four in number, appear aside the prime meridian in Caspar Vopel's large world map of 1545. The set closest to the meridian, labeled paralleli on the Giovio Globe and paralleli climatum distinctores by Vopel, apparently relate to a system, as yet undeciphered, of climate zones. The middle column of numbers on the Giovio Globe, labeled climata represent another system of climate zones.  This column corresponds to a similar Vopel column labeled vera climatum distributio.  This same system appears around the perimeter of the oval on Gastaldi’s great 1561 World Map.  The third column (the farthest from the meridian), labeled hores dies artificial minulis maxima on the Vopel map, but unlabeled on the Giovio Globe, represent the maximum hours of daylight (darkness) at different latitudes.  A fourth column on the Vopel map, the climata veterum, representing an ancient system of climate zones, is absent from the Giovio globe.

In addition, it should be noted that the Giovio Globe lacks both the web of loxodromes and the star indications found on Mercator’s globe.

Finally, the bulge of West Africa on the Giovio Globe does not pass across the prime meridian, a change from the Mercator globe. In comparison, on both the Vopel World Map of 1545 and Gastaldi's World Map of 1561, the westward bulge stops short of the prime meridian. In some other Gastaldi derived maps, though, the bluge does pass through the Prime Meridian, though this may be due to a slightly different location of the Meridian relative to the Caneries.



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Land Creatures, Sea Creatures, Ships and Islands

Unlike its Mercator prototype, the Giovio Globe depicts a wide variety of fauna. The Mercator Globe shows only a single animal, an opossum, in South America.. A similar creature is found in the Govio Globe, though its opossum is distinguished by its more pendulous teats (See Waldseemuller’s 1516 Carta Marina for a likely source for both these images).  In North America, the Giovio Globe show an extraordinary depiction of buffalos, a scene that is totally absent from Mercator’s globe. In Africa, in the area beneath the Niger River,the Giovio globe shows numerous animals, including two elephants, two lions, a leopard, a giraffe (?), two antelopes (?), a rhinoceros, a winged horse and several other unidentified creatures. In Northern Asia, the creator of the Giovio globe offers four narrative scenes. In the eastern steppes, a couple and their ox stand beside a yurt. To the north of this scene, a second, more numerous gathering of steppe peoples, together with their yurts, can be seen. Moving eastwards, a man, armed with sword and shield, fends off a huge ostrich-like bird.Finally, still further to the east, a caravan can be seen traversing a desert. Above the caravan hover two winged figure, doubtless the “deceptive spirits” mentioned in the accompanying legend.


Like its Mercator prototype, the Giovio terrestrial globe features numerous, often fanciful, sea creatures throughout its oceans. The two globes seem to share only one of the creatures, named Cetus (?) on Mercator’s globe and Cere (?) on the Giovio Globes. The other creatures on the Giovio Globe seem to derive from a number of sources, as may be seen at the accompanying link. As on the Mercator globe, several of Giovio Globe creatures have been named, including Notius, Delphinus and Neptuno (riding a Dolphin).


Unlike Mercator’s terrestrial globe, the Giovio Globe depicts numerous ships sailing its ocean seas. These vessels include three chubby carracks, a ship with only a square mainsail and a furled lateen sail visible, a single one-masted ship and three sailing galleys. These vessels all share one curious feature, their sails all show a rows of horizontal slits, possibly some sort of reefing rig. Additionally, the galley in the North Atlantic has one or two unusual horizontal poles emerging from its deck, while that pointing towards Japan seems to have a monstrous cannon mounted on its bow. Interestingly, only one of the ships is found below the Equator, a carrack in the South Atlantic, near the Straits of Magellan. Unfortunately, clumsy restoration and painting has obscured some of the details of this intrepid fleet.


Of course, the Giovio Globe shares depicts many of the same islands in roughly the same from as on the Mercator Globe, including, for example, tha Azores, Cuba and Zipangu. On the other hand, the Giovio Globe sometimes departs significantly from its Mercator predecessor. For instance, the curious island in the Atlantic off the Carolina Coast appears on both globes, unlabeled on the Mercator globe, but labeled Dou*a on the Giovio Globe. In the Pacific, the Giovio Globe has several islands near the Equator, including one identified as Insula Latronian, that are absent from the Mercator Globe. Like many of the departures from its Mercator prototype, these strange islands may offer clues as to the origin of the Giovio Globes.

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Engraving / Caligraphy

It has not yet been definitively determined if the gores of the Giovio globes are woodcut or engraved.  To the inexpert eye, the celestial globe could possibly be a woodcut, while the terrestrial almost certainly seems engraved.  Expert input here would be most welcome.

As noted earlier, the lettering on the Giovio celestial globe follows closely, though not identically, that of its Vopel prototype.  As for the Giovio terrestrial globe, its lettering appears, for the most part, to follow that of the Mercator Globe.  On both terrestrial globes, the continents, principal regions, empires and principal countries are rendered in Roman capitals.  Oceans and major seas are written in an elaborate Italic capital script, while all else is rendered in an italic cursive.  One significant difference: the names of peoples, written in a distinctive continuous script on the Mercator globe, are simply not present on the Giovio Globe.  And while the writing on the Giovio Globes, in a general sense, follows that of the Mercator Globes, it is clearly the work of a different hand.  Again, these observations are those of an unpracticed eye.

The symbols for mountains and forest differ markedly between the Giovio Globe and the Mercator globe.  On the Giovio Globe, the mountains are uniformly shadowed on the right side while the converse is true on the Mercator Globe.  On the Giovio Globe, the tree forms indicating forests have prominent trunks while the sprucelike trees on the Mercator globe appear trunkless.

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As noted earlier, the globes are in good condition, considering their presumed age. On the terrestrial globe, the most serious problem involves some extensive, poorly repaired areas of the Mediterranean. The coast from southern Spain to below Rome (including much of Northern Italy) and again from the Holy Land around to Tripoli must have suffered serious losses, almost certainly the result of centuries of use. Repair and touchups in these areas have been crude, at best, particularly in Egypt where the restorer has pushed the coast far to the south of its actual position, eliminating the Nile Delta. Another noticeable restoration can be seen in South America, near the Rio de la Plata, seemingly a repair of a serious crack. Major restorations may be viewed at the following link.  Numerous other minor repairs are visible throughout the terrestrial globe.

The eastern hemisphere of the terrestrial globe, particularly in the north, is very dirty and somewhat difficult to read, but portions of the globe, notably North and South America and Antarctica are remarkably clean and legible. It is obvious that at some point the terrestrial globe underwent a thorough, if clumsy, restoration in which the oceans were painted blue, the continents were outlined in red, and other gold and red highlights were added. A close look at any ship will show that the restorer was none too careful in his task. In addition, inspection of the continental outline will reveal several shocking mistakes. Note, for instance, how the restorer has landlocked both the Red and the White Seas. Incidentally, the present, uncolored condition color of these two seas also suggests strongly that the oceans and seas of the terrestrial globe, in their original state, were not painted blue.

The celestial globe, as might be expected, shows less wear than its terrestrial counterpart, though there are some abrasion losses in those areas which would come in contract with the horizon ring. In addition, as with the oceans of the terrestrial globe, the sky of the celestial globe has also undergone a later painting, if in a more opaque blue than that of its terrestrial counterpart. That this later painting does not reflect the original color of the globe’s sky can be seen in the few small areas of sky that the restorer overlooked as he applied his blue paint across the heavens.

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The Stands

Each globe is mounted in a brass meridian ring that is graduated on one side, clockwise and anticlockwise from north 90 degrees to 0 degrees, 0 degrees to 90 degrees, numbered every 10 degrees with divisions of 1 degree. Each meridian ring is surmounted by graduated hour circles with pointers that are, curiously, numbered from I to XII and then backwards from XII to I.

The spheres with meridian rings are mounted in wooden stands. Each stand has four turned legs that support its horizon ring. The legs are connected by two crossbeams which, in turn, carry a circular base plate with a central support for the meridian ring.

When properly mounted in the stands, the spheres appear to sit a little high in their supports. Observe how the whole ensemble of sphere and stand seems just a bit top heavy, the equatorial rings of each sphere visible at a slightly uncomfortable interval above the horizon ring. This observation suggests that, perhaps, the spheres did not originally sit in their present stands.

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Horizon Rings

An examination of the horizon rings, clearly not contemporary with the globes (see below), reinforces the suggestion that the globes and their stands are not contemporary.  Both horizon rings are manuscript, not printed, with only the slightest of variation from one to the other.  Each ring has three scales, each scale divided into 360 units.  The innermost scale shows the zodiac.  Between this zodiac scale and the middle scale is a ring in which names the months of the year. The middle scale seems to be a rather nonsensical calendar that counts, for instance, only 360 days in total but a surprising 31 days in February.  Between the middle and outermost scale the names of the zodiac have been marked.  The outermost scale is, again, degrees, marked with rather erratic numbering.  Beyond this ring, some clusters of indistinct lettering (illegible due to accumulated dirt, but possibly representing wind directions) can just be made out.

These distinctly amateurish, manuscript horizon rings stand in direct contrast to the carefully engraved spheres.  In addition, by comparing the calendar and zodiac scales, it can be seen that the zodiac scale begins at a date (March 20) which indicates the use of the Gregorian calendar, adopted in 1584.  As all other analysis suggest a distinctly earlier date for both spheres, it seems almost certain that the horizon ring is not contemporary with the globes.  Perhaps the original (Julian) ring was simply updated around the time of the calendar changeover. Or perhaps, as is often the case, the original ring was replaced on the stand after is wore out.  Given the sloppy restorations made to both the celestial and terrestrial globe, it may be that the same hand that restored one or both of the globes created the horizon ring as well. 

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It would appear indisputable, then, that the two globes in question represent a pair of 16th century globes, probably produced circa 1550-1565 in Northern Italy.  The terrestrial globe follows closely the 1541 terrestrial globe of Gerard Mercator, while the celestial globe represents a near copy of Caspar Vopel’s 1536 celestial globe. As the terrestrial globe reflects the results of certain Spanish explorations in South America, it could not date before 1550, the earliest date that the results of those explorations could have been disseminated, even marginally, in Europe.  Furthermore, the globe’s dedication to Emanuele Filiberto as Duke of Savoy would place its date posterior to 1553 (thus eliminating the intriguing possibility that the globes may have once belonged to Paolo Giovio).  In addition, the terrestrial globe’s close correspondence, in selected toponomy and texts, to Giacomo Gastaldi’s nine sheet World Map of 1561 implies a date close to that famous work.   Finally, the celestial globe’s placement within the so-called Demongenet tradition suggests a date after the 1560 date of the Demongenet prototype, unless one accepts the possibility that the publication of the Giovio celestial globe preceded that of the Demongenet globe. 

As for the place of origin of the globes, it is true that the models for both the terrestrial and celestial globe come from Northern Europe.  On the other hand, numerous factors, including the following, strongly suggest a Northern Italian origin:

  • The dedications to Emanuele Filiberto and Hieronymi de Boncompagni (Rome Globe).
  • The abundance of Italian toponyms where new toponyms were added to the existing Mercator names.
  • The additional Italian cities added to the European Place Name Table.
  • The close relationship between the new additions to the terrestrial globe (as compared with its Mercator prototype) and the Gastaldi World Map of 1561.

I addition, of course, the Giovio Globes (and the matching Rome globes, as well) can be traced to Italian ownership as of the beginning of the 20th Century (end of the 19th for the Rome globes).

Beyond the established fact that they were owned by a distinguished Milanese family in the early 1900’s, the provenance of the Giovio Globes remains murky,  The reference to the Giovio Family on the bottom of the stands represents a tantalizing, but, as yet, unproven possibility, while the presence of the Visconti arms on the terrestrial globe presents another puzzle.  More work needs to be done in this area.

Though there remain many unanswered questions about the globes, it may nonetheless prove worthwhile to speculate as to the origin of the globes.  One possible scenario might be as follows.  The maker of the globes began with a set of the Vopell 1536 celestial gores.  He traced or copied these gores making, with the exceptions noted above, only the slightest of changes (some lettering here, some cross hatching there) to the Vopel gores, giving him a celestial globe in a practical and popular size.  He then downsized Mercator’s 1541 terrestrial globe to produce a matching set of terrestrial gores.  The maker of the globes declined to identify himself as the maker of his work, either out of embarrassment or out of fear of legal difficulties (It is unclear whether any patents or privileges that might have been issued to Vopell or Mercator would have been enforceable in Italy).   In any event, it seems clear, based primarily on the changes made to Mercator’s geography, that the maker of the Giovio Globes was a serious, accomplished geographer, close to Giacomo Gastaldi, if not Gastaldi, himself.  Why a geographer as famous and prolific as Gastaldi would have undertaken such a project in such a manner presents another question altogether.

Regardless of the exact identity of their maker, the globes can be viewed as representing important cartographical milestones for several reasons.  First, the globes are probably the earliest surviving pair of printed globes of Italian origin.  Second, both globes, but especially the terrestrial globe, represent a blending of Northern and Southern European cartographical knowledge.  Third, the terrestrial globe represents a contemporary record of the dissemination of geographical knowledge from certain historic European expeditions in the Americas subsequent to 1541 (the date of issue of Mercator’s terrestrial globe).  For all these reasons, and many others, the globes clearly merit further study and analysis.

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