This is a story of how a son of a tailor made the King of France a very proud man indeed. Louis XIV was already enjoying the glory attached to ruling France in a time of massive growth and enrichment. What better present to further please your monarch than a stunning pair of globes reflecting the mastery over the earthly and heavenly spheres. At least, that is what Cardinal d’Estrees had thought on witnessing the globes that the Duke of Parma had.
The Duke had commissioned a set of terrestrial and celestial globes and so impressed with the results, he made the man in charge of the commission his theologian. That’s where the son of a tailor enters, as he was the man in question, one Vincenzo Coronelli, born in 1650 , the fifth child of a tailor. He was accepted as a young man into the Conventual Franciscans, studying theology and excelling in astronomy and Euclid. While he was working as a geographer, the commission came in from the Duke, and the rest as they say, is history. So the Duke of Parma’s marvellous globes now had to be surpassed in their wow factor, since the Cardinal was currying favour with the King, and no-one wants to let a king look anything less than, well, the best.
And they were; technically astounding, the terrestrial globe and the celestial globe weighed in at about 2.3 tons each, measuring 3.87 diameter, so quite a handful. Coronelli put a hatch in the back which allowed thirty men to be in the globe at any one time.
Coronelli went on to have success in his academic career as well as building a successful company supplying globes throughout Europe, and died at the age of 68. Quite a stretch for the son of a common tailor. The application of hard work married to a strong intellect will always astound , and I am continually in awe of how far men can go. He did however fall out with the pope over some overspending issues. Oh well, can’t be all plain sailing.
We are left with the lovely globes, which are on display at the Bibliotheque nationale de France. The globes are not only a remarkable achievement from a scientific viewpoint, at the time, but also as an artistic interpretion of the world, and of the stars. In fact, even then the scientists would have been biting their tongue at the level of scientific understanding, but as a work of art they are gorgeous objects. I have chosen some images taken from them and available from the online exhibition at the National Library of France.