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Cartographica Helvetica


Lionel Dorffner:

The digital Behaim globe – visualisation and measurement of this very important historical object

Cartographica Helvetica 14 (1996) 20–24


Martin Behaim (1459–1507) from Nuremberg commissioned the oldest known terrestrial globe, which was constructed between 1491 and 1492. He left the technical work of the globe to a painter and craftsman. The resulting globe has a diameter of 51 cm and is kept at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. Because of its sensitivity to light exposure, it is no longer exhibited. The globe is a unique document of the geographical world at the time just before Christopher Colombus left for his great discoveries.

For its 500th anniversary, the Behaim globe was analysed with different scientific methods. Accurate photographic pictures were taken so that duplicate globes can be made and its present shape and condition studied. One project was to prepare a complete digital globe. With the aid of modern visualisation techniques, the digital model can be turned and changed in real time using different parameters. In addition to this visual impression of the Behaim globe, its surface can be measured digitally online or its image can be overlayed with other maps or globes to compare the shapes. The digital Behaim globe is not only a documentation of the precious original globe but offers scientists as well as other interested people an easily available version of this very important historical object.

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