Cosmographer at Work

Date: 1537
Owner: John Carter Brown Library, Brown University
Source Type: Images


This image is the frontispiece to a 1537 work about spherical geometry, a study made possible by the renaissance of classical learning that was nearly complete by the early modern era. The cosmographer leans over a globe with a graticule of latitude and longitude, a conception of geographic space influenced by the works of Euclid and Ptolemy, and the floor is even laid out in a standard grid. The inclusion of heavenly bodies, stars and astrological signs used for navigation, also echo classical cosmography. Yet the theme of this image is distinctly modern; indeed, Europeans (especially Spaniards) in the early modern era conceived of themselves as having surpassed the ancients in knowledge, technology, and power, all of which had much to do with the discovery of America. The Iberian empires in America, a continent included on the globe, were larger than Rome's at the height of its power, and the fact that the ancients were ignorant of the existence of the New World--and the plants, animals, and peoples within it--did much to diminish their authority. The instruments created to navigate, chart, and conquer the Americas were also seen as superior to those of Greco-Romans. This frontispiece thus includes images of astrolabes, dividers, quadrants, and hourglasses, as well as musical instrument and books to laud contemporary skills in the arts. This picture illustrates Europe's new found confidence that modern technology and learning would enable them to expand across the globe (note the absence of Christian iconography in favor of scientific and classical imagery).

CITATION: Bosco, Sacro. [Cosmographer at work]. 1537. Courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.