Celestial Globe by W.J. Blaeu

The New England Chapter

Willem Janszoon Blaeu was a famous cartographer and manufacturer of Dutch mathematical and astronomical instruments. He learned the fundamentals of cosmography, geography, and the construction and use of astronomical instruments as a pupil of the famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. 

He returned to his home in Amsterdam, where he soon distinguished himself as a manufacturer of globes and instruments of astronomy, then as a cartographer and printer. His first dated work was a terrestrial globe (1599), followed in 1603 by a celestial globe of equal size. Later, he gave the public a much larger pair of globes (with a circumference of 2.16 meters) of which there were several reprints.

He was appointed Cartographer of the Republic in 1633 and he founded his cartographic workshop Blaviana in 1625, associating his sons Giovanni and Cornelius. His work was so successful that the State General obliged the commercial companies with traffic in India and the merchant ships to use the Blaeu maps. Their outstanding production, printed in the major languages of Europe and widely imitated, also included the contributions of scientists and geographers. Among his numerous works worth noting are the Appendix Theatri A. Ortelii et Atlantis G. Mercatoris continens tabulas geographicas diversarum orbis regionum nunc primum editas cum descriptionibus (1631), the collection of 103 maps serving as supplements to the two most famous atlases of the time, which increased to later editions, thus forming the nucleus of the major collection entitled Theatrum Orbis terrarum sive Atlas Novus (1635).

The construction of the first celestial globes dates back to the Greeks, returning only at the end of the first millennium in the Arab world, from which it spread throughout Europe in the fifteenth century. Globes were used both to indicate the positions and movements of the celestial bodies as well as an aid for navigation. 

The first globes were engraved or painted directly on the spherical support up until the end of the sixteenth century, when the images were printed on paper. These were broken down into strips, segments that branched out to the point of the poles, widening in proportion to the equatorial line in order to faithfully render the spherical surface. The strips were glued to the globe, consisting of a round papier-mâché and plaster-lined wooden armature to create a uniform surface, supplemented by the Meridian Ring: it was mounted on the connecting axis between the poles, with an inclination of about twenty-three degrees, indicating the plane of the Earth’s orbit. The wooden ring on the horizon has a paper circle indicating the months and zodiac signs and is supported by three wooden legs in an English-style mounting (there are four legs in the Dutch type).

Globes were useful scientific instruments and at the same time works of valuable artistic quality. Globes were generally arranged in pairs (terrestrial and celestial) to ornament the libraries of monks, scholars, princes and sovereigns. The globe in question, signed and dated, is a pendant with a terrestrial globe (Inv. 70157) coming from the Chigi collection. It was bought by the Italian State in 1918 and donated to the Holy See, merging into the collection of the Vatican Apostolic Library in 1923 from which it passed to the Vatican Museums in accordance with the Rescriptum of John Paul II in 1999.