Leonardo da Vinci’s Ostrich Egg Globe

Nov 8, 2021 0 comments

If the first map to represent the American continent is that of Juan de la Cosa, made in the year 1500, and the first in which the name America appears to identify it is the so-called Universalis Cosmographia of Martin Waldseemüller, of 1507, the first globe that showed the New World was created by none other than Leonardo da Vinci in 1504.

However, that it was Leonardo's work was not known when on June 16, 2012 it was discovered at the London cartographic fair organized by the Royal Geographical Society. A Dutch dealer was trying to sell it as if it were a 19th century object, and would later state that he had just acquired it that same day from another colleague, so the provenance of the artifact remains unknown.

The Ostrich Egg Globe. Photo: Davidguam/Wikimedia Commons

The globe is made with two bottom halves of ostrich eggshell joined together, and with a calcium counterweight placed inside the bottom one (glued with egg white) to keep the globe upright. It has a diameter of 11.2 centimeters and weighs just 134 grams. The map depicted includes drawings of ships, a volcano, sailors, a monster, waves, conical mountains, rivers and other elements and place names.

The lucky buyer of the globe, the researcher Stefaan Missinne, would come to the conclusion (as he exposes in his book The Da Vinci Globe) that it was the work of the famous Renaissance artist based on the fact that Leonardo would have made a preparatory drawing for the globe in 1503, which can be found in the Codex Arundel.

Another drawing, of the ship shown on the map south of the Indian Ocean, is present in a codex by Francesco di Giorgio Martini dating from 1487-90, and precisely the owner of this codex was Leonardo himself. It is the only book that has survived from Da Vinci's extensive library, and therefore the only one that contains annotations in his own handwriting.

The Leonardo da Vinci Globe unfolded. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

According to the researchers, both the pictographic details and the way of applying the engravings (made by a left-handed person) point to Leonardo as its author. In this sense the map of the globe presents, according to Missinne and Geert Verhoeven, an example of reverse perspective, a form of anamorphosis of which the first known example is also attributed to Da Vinci.

Moreover, on the recto of page 331 of the Codex Atlanticus, which dates from 1504, Da Vinci wrote: el mío mappamondo che ha Giovanni Benci (my globe which has Giovanni Benci), implying that he had created a globe. Today it is not only the oldest engraved globe that we know of, but also the oldest to represent America, as we said at the beginning.

Sketches from da Vinci’s Codex Arundel. Photo: The British Library Board

In the words of Missinne and Verhoeven:

While living in Florence in 1504 Leonardo not only had access to the latest maps, but to many other sources of knowledge such as the techniques of engraving and casting. By engraving these very exotic and expensive ostrich eggshells, he wanted to highlight the birth of the fourth continent: America. Despite being named after Amerigo Vespucci, the name that appears on the globe is Mundus Novus (New World), exactly as Vespucci had named it.

Given the similarities between the two, it is believed that the Da Vinci Globe served as a model for the creation of the Hunt-Lenox Globe, therefore considered the third oldest known and whose date of manufacture is also 1504.

It is a copper globe 11.2 centimeters in diameter (exactly the same as Da Vinci's) and 345 in circumference, which happens to be the only historical map that literally contains the phrase Hc svnt dracones ( here are dragons , on the Indochina peninsula). Today it is kept in the New York Public Library.

The Hunt-Lenox Globe. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This article was originally published in La Brújula Verde. It has been translated from Spanish and republished with permission.


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