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Tucked away in a corner gallery of the Bibliothèque Nationale François Mitterand branch in Paris’s 13th arrondissement are two stunning pieces of irreplaceable French patrimony. The luminous “Coronelli Globes” hang silently, bearers both of a breathtaking witness to the world-view of a powerful French monarch and to the artisanal skill of a Venetian cartographer. The globes hang front and center in an exhibition space filled with maps and other smaller globes, all interesting to be sure. But the Coronelli Globes are astonishing in their size and rich deep-blue beauty. And they tell an interesting story of a relationship between a Franciscan monk-cartographer and a king.
The globes had rarely been displayed prior to their current and permanent placement in the new Bibliothèque Nationale. By all accounts, when the public had an opportunity to see these Globes in the early years of the Pompidou Center or at the Centennial of the Grand Palais in 2005 or other noteworthy public occasions, they drew large crowds who inevitably found the orbs to be magically engaging.
There are two globes. One shows the constellations in the heavens as they would have appeared at the time of Louis’ birth. Dreamy renaissance-style imagery including archers, horses and crabs presents the zodiac in golden-hued splendor.
The second globe shows the world and its continents as they were understood in the era of Louis’ reign. This globe, often referred to as the Terrestrial Globe, shows the known world along with illustrations of differing peoples and their pursuits. Images such as one of men whaling must have been seen as quite exotic to the denizens of the French court.
Another interesting quirk within the mapping of the North American continent shows California as a crescent-moon shaped island, separate from the continental land-mass. Present-day Louisiana, at that time a colony of France (later sold by Napoleon to the United States), is depicted with the mouth of the Mississippi River inaccurately portrayed. There remains some mystery as to whether this was an unintended cartographer’s error or whether the King desired to confuse anyone wishing to invade his colony.
[Coronelli Globes at Grand Palais inserted to illustrate scale]
Some interesting facts and figures: The globes’ origins date back to the early 1600s. They were completed in 1681 and 1683. The dimensions are 3.84 meters in diameter, 11.6 meters (38 feet) around the circumference, and each globe weighs in at a robust 1,500 kg (over 3300 pounds).
Coronelli did not become rich from the commission to make the Globes. Cardinal Duke d’Estrée, the French ambassador to Rome, paid Coronelli 46,000 pounds for the Globes. It is said that Coronelli estimated their cost of production to be 100,000 pounds. However, Coronelli was able to use the new knowledge his team generated in the research and production of the great globes to produce his groundbreaking engraved world atlas which earned him enduring fame and substantial income.
Colbert, the king’s powerful advisor, devised the idea for the great Globes. Originally the Coronelli Globes were intended for installation at Versailles, but this never came to pass. Colbert died the year the Globes were completed, and instead, they were installed at the Château de Marly in Yvelines in 1704. Today, following a quick metro ride to the Bibliothèque Nationale, one can visit these magnificent Globes and lose oneself in imagining those celestial and terrestrial worlds of Louis XIV. Go, you will be glad you did!
Bibliotheque Nationale (National Library of France, François Mitterand branch)
Quai François-Mauriac, Paris 13th
Tél: 01 5379 5959
Métro: 6, 14
Bus: 89, 62, 64, 132 et 325
Exhibitions: Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-7pm, Sunday 1-7pm
Entry: 7€ adult, 10€ couple other options available
Reading Rooms: Open: Daily except hours change daily–see chart here
Entry: 2011 cost for a day pass is 3.5€ and multiple-visit plans available
PHOTO CREDITS: Globe detail at Bibliotheque Nationale, ©Top a Nice; Globe at Bibliotheque Nationale ©Sally Peabody (author); Globes at Grand Palais from Wikimedia; and Globes de Coronelli at Grand Palais grand reopening exhibit, 2005 ©Pierre Metivier
Sally Peabody is a Paris Specialist who coaches and advises savvy travelers on optimizing their time in Paris. She brings small groups to Paris, Lyon and the Pays Basque to indulge in culinary and cultural tours and can pair Paris-bound travelers with engaging private guides year-round. Learn more at Sally’s website.
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