Going Global in Mughal India Spread 12

Going Global in Mughal India Spread 12 rectoGoing Global in Mughal India Spread 12 verso
p. 21 & 22


Unsigned (attributed to the workshop of Gerard Mercator)
Dated 1579
Gilded copper, diameter 28.6 cm, overall height 40 cm, overall width 38 cm
Contemporary photographs
Private Collection / Photo © Christie's Images / The Bridgeman Art Library

In Latin on the bottom of the terrestrial globe:
Amurat III, Suleyman, by the grace of the great god in the heavens, the only king of all the kingdoms of the world, the emperor [and] sultan of the Turks: 1579.


[1] Avner, Ben-Zaken. "The Revolving Planets and the Revolving Clocks: Circulating Mechanical Objects in the Mediterranean." History of Science XLIX (2011), 130.


By now, I trust the historical, and not just the aesthetic or market, value of the paintings whose images are gathered in this album has become manifest: they provide the only tangible evidence for the presence in seventeenth-century India of the terrestrial globe, the instrument that began to be used from the 1500s to study the earth and to demonstrate (literally and metaphorically) where we stand in the world, and in the universe. By contrast, not a single globe that might have served as a material model for the artists of the Mughal atelier has survived. This is not surprising given that all but the most expensive of these objects were quite fragile, their gores easily damaged, their wooden cores frequently smashed in the long sea voyages over, not to mention the inclement weather of the subcontinent that took its toll on such artifacts. [1]

This is what makes the objects whose photographs you see in these pages quite remarkable: a pair of terrestrial and celestial globes, made of gilded copper, most likely fashioned in 1579 in the Duisburg workshop of the most famous globe maker of his time, Gerard Mercator (1512-1594). These globes were not intended for the Mughal court, although it is possible that objects like these were indeed arriving in India as well. They were instead created for an important contemporary of Akbar, Murad III (r. 1574-1595), the Turkish sultan, as recorded in the Ottoman tughra (cypher) and a note in Latin inscribed near the South Pole of the terrestrial globe. [2]

The globes were most likely not a gift from any European court to the Sublime Porte, but were instead quite likely commissioned by Murad III himself. However, they never did reach Istanbul. Instead, they remained in Europe, finally reappearing at a Christie’s sale in London in 1991 when they were exhaustively documented by a group of scholars. Here is how the terrestrial globe that you see on the right is described (note the resonances with some of the globes painted in the Mughal portraits we have seen so far):

“60 towns in Europe marked by numeral codes, with a key set in central Pacific, major mountain chains marked by stylized shaded hill symbols, the continents decorated with 13 animals and beasts: Africa with two elephants, a rhino, lion, giraffe, a dragon, and an image of Prester John sitting on his throne: South America with 2 wolf-like beasts, one suckling its young, and 2 natives, one with a bow: the Antarctic continent decorated with an eagle and a hawk-like bird, the seas and oceans profusely stippled, decorated with a sea monster. Triton riding his sea-horse, a galley in the Indian Ocean and a European ship, major ocean names in large decorated italics, smaller inland seas in roman capitals…” [3]

The cartography of the globe is based on the revolutionary world map published in 1569 by Mercator, as is also apparent from the manner in which the Indian subcontinent is depicted on the globe.

We will return to Mercator and the importance of his cartographic products for the Mughal court and atelier a few pages later, but for now, I call attention to the brass axis on which the globes are set, and the brass meridian and horizon circles and the elaborately carved stands that support the objects. In no Mughal painting have I encountered the apparatus shown in this manner.


[1] The survival of these objects in early modern Europe was also not necessarily assured. The 1580-will of Spanish mathematician and cosmographer Juan Gesio mentions “two celestial spheres and one terrestrial globe of paper, much worn, which instruments have been taxed and estimated at very low value, because they are almost all much used (ill treated), broken and damaged, and for that reason they have not yet been sold” (Quoted in Dekker, Elly. "Globes in Renaissance Europe." In The History of Cartography, Volume Three: Cartography in the European Renaissance, Part I, edited by David Woodward. 135-73. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007, 150).

[2] Some have speculated that the great Flemish cartographer himself had a hand in their production, for “who else was in such a position to produce such globes in 1579?” (Dekker, Elly, and Peter van der Krogt. Globes from the Western World. London: Zwemmer, 1993, 21).

[3] The Murad III Globes: The Property of a Lady to Be Offered as Lot 139 in a Sale of Valuable Travel and Natural History Books, Atlases, Maps and Important Globes on Wednesday 30 October 1991. London: Christie, Manson and Woods, 1991.