An Imperfect World

The early days of scientific investigation resulted in extraordinary collaborations between the artistic community and the scientific one.  Many examples of these concerted efforts to explore, chart, map, test and record are beautifully documented and eloquently explained in Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe, edited by Susan Dackerman and accompanying an exhibition currently on view at the Harvard Art Museums.  In some cases, artists of significant renown and stature were involved in this effort.  Lucas Cranach the elder produced a map, a sundial, and an astrolabe, in addition to the paintings and woodcuts for which he is most famous.  Albrecht Dürer produced celestial maps that lead to astronomer Johann Schöner’s celestial globe made from gores that featured Dürer’s constellations.

Terrestrial globe gores also appear in the book, including a reproduction of twelve terrestrial gores that can be pulled out of the book for a do-it-yourself craft project: assemble your own 16th-century globe.  This hands-on opportunity appealed enormously to our department at the Press, especially after comparing then-and-now images of space last month.

The instructions for assembling the globe suggest that it’s most easily and effectively accomplished by cutting out the globe gores and affixing them to a small sphere of particular dimensions – roughly the size of a large orange.  We didn’t have immediate access to such a prop, and, eager as we were to attempt our own model globe, we decided to undertake the project armed simply with the gores, scissors, and tape.

Here are the globe gores as they appear in the book, and here they are neatly snipped from the page.  We lined them up in order, and taped each gore to its neighbor.  Then we brought the ends together to complete the “equator,” and finally, carefully and painstakingly bowed the tips toward one another to create the “poles,” and taped them in place.

We used a bit more tape than we planned to, and our globe is perhaps not perfectly spherical… but we understand, thanks to science and the artistic representations of its findings in years since the 1500s, Earth isn’t perfectly spherical, either.

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