Martin Behaim's globe, 1492

Martin Behaim's globe, 1492

Image 1. Martin Behaims 'Erdapfel' (globe), 1492. Martin Behaim's Erdapfel, 1492. Location: Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg. ​Photo: Alexander Franke, 31 March 2006. Source: Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0 DE).  The videobelow provides a somewhat better impression of this unique object.

Image 2. Modern reconstruction of Behaim's globe, from Ernst Ravenstein: Martin Behaim. His Life and his Globe (London, 1908). Source: Freiburger historische Bestände – digital via Wikimedia (public domain).  High-res version available here. This work, although over a century old, represents the most detailed modern reconstruction of Behaim's globe, not destined to be superseded by the digitisation project described below. 

Image 3. The conception of the western hemisphere before Columbus. Reproduction of the globe of Martin Behaim, 1492. Source: Encyclopedia Larousse illustre (1898), Wikimedia (public domain). 

Image 4. Modern cartography superimposed on Behaim's globe.  Source: Élisée Reclus  (1830–1905), L'Homme et la terreWikimedia (public domain). 

Images 3 and 4 help clarify the most striking feature of this early globe: produced exactly at the time of Columbus's first voyage, it illustrates his expectation that one could reach Japan (identified ono the globe, as by Marco Polo, as Cipangu), China and the Indies by sailing due west. Closer study of the relationship between Behaim's cartography and a modern map is facilitated by the interactive superimposition of one upon the other in the David Rumsey Map Collection

General commentary(from the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg).

As the oldest surviving representation of the earth in the form of a sphere, the Behaim Globe in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum is one of the most important cultural products in the history of geography.

Manufactured at the same time as Christopher Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas between 1492 and 1494, the globe’s geographical map and inscriptions document the European world image on the eve of the age of discovery. With 110 miniatures, ca. 2,000 toponyms (place names), and numerous short and long texts, it possesses encyclopedic dimensions and considerable value as a source of knowledge about the perception of the non-European world before Columbus.

The globe was made between 1492 and 1494 for the Nuremberg city council. Concept and content were provided by the widely travelled Nuremberg cloth merchant and seafarer Martin Behaim (1459-1507); the production was undertaken by the illuminator Georg Glockendon, the painter Hans Storch and the scribe Petrus Gagenhart as well as other Nuremberg specialist craftsmen. The globe initially was intended for the chambers of the Nuremberg council, the administrative centre of the municipality. Later it was moved to the “Obere Regimentsstube” (council hall) of the town hall. 

Digitisation project. Until now, it has been difficult to study the globe as a whole. The latest complete edition dates from 1908 and is based on incorrect 19th-century facsimeles. Moreover, the numerous revisions, corrections and repairs of its texts have never been identified or evaluated. For these reasons, the Germanisches Nationalmuseum as the globe’s owner and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg as project partner plan to digitize its image, making it available as a virtual 3D globe on the internet. One of the main project phases will be devoted to the production of a modern version of all texts together with critical commentary. Beyond that, the digitized image of the Behaim Globe in its three-dimensionality will set standards for similar digitisation projects and for the publication, sufficient for the concept of an “epistemic web”, of three-dimensional, culturally relevant image- and text-bearing media. In reference to this aspect, the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg is co-operating with the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte (Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science) in Berlin. Furthermore, a recently formed interdisciplinary group of scholars is devoting itself to different questions concerning the Behaim Globe.

Resources. The Museo Galileo offers brief surveys of the history of celestial and terrestrial globes and of methods of constructing them