The Southwest Collection/ Special Collections Library is home to a variety of incredible artifacts, but none compare to our most prized possession: the historic Coronelli Globe. The only one of its kind on permanent display outside of the Library of Congress, the globe was first purchased in Italy during the 1920s by William Randolph Hearst. In the 1950s Dallas oilman Robert Moody acquired the globe, and through the efforts of Texas Tech President Grover Murray and Library Director Ray Janeway the globe became the Texas Tech Library’s one millionth acquisition in 1968. The globe was then displayed in the Library foyer until 1996, when it underwent conservation. Finally, in 1997 the globe was installed in the Southwest Collection’s rotunda where it remains on permanent display.
Franciscan monk and cartographer Vincenzo Coronelli, from whom the globe takes its name, designed and created this artifact in the 1680s. Coronelli spent most of his life in the city of his birth, Venice. At the age of twenty-eight, he constructed his first globe in his Venetian workshop in 1678. By the time of his death in 1718 he had designed more than twenty different globes with diameters ranging from less than two inches to over thirteen feet. At forty-two inches, the Southwest Collection’s globe is an example of Coronelli at the height of his powers, combining a keen artistic sense with his extensive knowledge of astronomy and geography.
The globe is also a window into the late seventeenth century world, illustrating the extent of European exploration. For example, while the coasts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas are depicted in great detail, the continents’ interiors include regions with fanciful drawings rather than geographical features. It also contains errors, such as Australia’s inaccurate size, blank east coast, and illustration of an elephant as an inhabitant of that continent.
One of the more glaring misrepresentations is in regard to California. Although earlier maps had correctly depicted the region as a peninsula, descriptions given by several early seventeenth century explorers mistakenly claimed that California was an island. These tales soon became widely accepted, and as a result Coronelli depicted the North American west coast as separate from the mainland.
Another interesting detail is the placement of the Mississippi River. On the globe, it lies far to the west of its actual course. This may result from the documentation by French explorer Robert de La Salle, who had explored the river in 1682. His confusion as to the river’s exact location would soon result in more than incorrect maps, for in 1684 La Salle attempted to form a French colony at the mouth of the river but located it instead on the coast south of present day Victoria, Texas. For years historians have portrayed La Salle as veering off course and shipwrecking on the Texas coast. Some cartographic scholars, however, believe that the globe shows that La Salle arrived precisely where he thought he was going. Either way, the settlement lasted only until 1688 when Karankawa-speaking Indians massacred the last remaining colonists. In the meantime, relying on La Salle’s information, cartographers such as Coronelli depicted the Mississippi’s location inaccurately.
The Coronelli globe underwent conservation in 1996. This required an often difficult decision process. All repairs were undertaken only when they would stabilize and strengthen the artifact. The globe’s surface is covered in some fifty paper sections called ‘gores.’ As these—as well as the globe’s layers of dirt, varnish, and overpaint—were removed to reveal its true beauty, part of its history was also erased. For example, two layers of material existed: the original dirty top layer and a foundation layer of coarse burlap. In order to properly preserve the globe, some portions had to be permanently removed. Fortunately, such decisions did not always result in historical tragedy. The globe’s installation also revealed another layer of engraved paper inside the outer one. Hidden for centuries, this layer is evidence that this globe might have been Coronelli’s own experimental working model, making it of enormous importance to research.