THE ONLY SURVIVING MECHANICAL
CELESTIAL GLOBE
BY SCHISSLER THE YOUNGER
AUGSBURG, CIRCA 1600-1605

This mechanical globe is the only surviving example by Hans Christoph Schissler (1561–1652), son of the notable German instrument maker Christoph Schissler (c. 1531–1608). Hans Christoph worked until 1592 in the workshop of his father in Augsburg. After that date he made instruments and clocks in Prague, where from 1610 onwards he was also clockmaker to the court. Several of his instruments appear in the inventories of the collections of the most important courts in Europe. His oeuvre consisted of instruments of a number of different types, including sundials, simple theodolites, quadrants and gunner’s levels. In Prague the pinnacle of his output was a mathematical instrument containing an astrolabe with geographical plates, folding rules, and sighting rules.

Christoph Schissler was a productive maker of many different types of instrument. However, only three non-mechanical brass globes from his hand have survived: a celestial globe of 1575 now in the Paço da Vila de Sintra in Portugal; and a pair of celestial and terrestrial globes of 1597, made by Schissler but engraved by Amos Neuwaldt, a goldsmith from Augsburg. The terrestrial globe, whose diameter is almost identical to the present instrument, is preserved in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich; its celestial companion is in a private collection.

The names of the constellations on this globe are engraved in a beautiful light italic script, except for those of the zodiac, which are set in Roman capitals. Hans Christoph’s accomplished engraving skills are also evident in the figurative representations of the constellations, which are depicted with particular feeling for natural proportions. In his engraving Schissler the younger surpassed his father, who usually labelled his instruments with punched letters and had his globes engraved by a goldsmith. The source for the star map are gores published by François Demongenet around 1560. The features typical of Demongenet’s map include a complete ship for Argo, the male figure Acarnar near the end of Eridanus, Boötes represented with two dogs, and a magnitude table labelled ‘NOTÆ Magnit. Stellaru[m]’ in front of Ursa Major.

The globe rests in a separate three-armed stand that can be secured to the base by means of a butterfly screw. Originally this device allowed the globe to be set on different types of base. When in the collection of Henri Michel, the globe was fixed to a turned eighteenth-century baluster, and has been illustrated as such in numerous publications. Today the globe stands on a more appropriate contemporary south German gilt-bronze figure of Atlas.

Several examples of this pattern of stand for celestial globes are known, sometimes featuring Atlas, sometimes Hercules, distinguishable by their accoutrements. One such example is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; a similar piece survives in a Parisian private collection. Hans Weihrauch has attributed the model for the figure to Jacopo Sansovino, believing it to have inspired a Tintoretto drawing preserved in the Budapest Museum of Fine Art.4 The finest surviving example is by the Nuremberg goldsmith Christoph Jamnitzer.5 Jamnitzer probably travelled to Italy and might have seen and brought back a Sansovino bronze, using it as a template for other works. Another similar silver figure of Atlas, today in the Swedish Royal collections, is by Jeremias Ritter.