Mercator Globes at the Harvard Map Collection

Image from the Mercator Terrestrial Globe of an area of the Eurasian continent, located approximately at 72°E 53°N in contemporary geographical terms. Harvard Map Collection.


The only matched pair of Mercator globes in America offer insight into the 16th century understanding of both the terrestrial and celestial worlds. Produced by Gerard Mercator (1512-1594), widely regarded as the most influential cartographer of his time, the terrestrial globe (1541) updates earlier Ptolemaic maps, representing America as a separate continent and including new discoveries in Europe, Africa, and southern Asia. The celestial (1551) globe relies on the Ptolemaic star system, but also reflects the theories of Copernicus published in 1543. Though it is believed Mercator manufactured several hundred of these globes, a recent census reveals that only 22 matched pairs survive. After undergoing extensive conservation treatment both globes were digitally photographed, allowing scholars world-wide to examine them in extraordinary detail. 

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