To retrace the origin of the Lausanne globes, it was necessary to reconstruct the succession of astronomy professorships in the region. The Canton of Vaud can boast having hosted numerous renowned figures in this field, as well as in mathematics and philosophy. In the 18th and early 19th centuries they included :
- Jean-Pierre de Crousaz (1663-1750)
- Jean-Philippe Loys de Cheseaux (1718-1751)
- Théodore-Louis de Treytorrents (1726-1794)
- Henri Struve (1751-1826)
- Emmanuel Develey (1764-1839)
Any of these scholars, all aficionados of astronomy and scientific equipment, could easily have had globes in their office at a given time. One can indeed be seen in the background of the portrait of Loys de Cheseaux. Why couldn’t he have subsequently donated it to the Lausanne Academy? A search of the Academy’s archives turned up several references to globes.
In 1780 Alexandre César Chavannes compiled a hand-written history of the Lausanne Academy. It notes that German princes donated two globes to the university but that these were “in the style of Abbé Nolet”. Jean-Antoine Nollet made a number of globes between 1725 and 1730, but they were only 32.5 cm in diameter so there is no possibility of confusion with the Mercator globes.
In 1794, at the death of Théodore-Louis de Treytorrents, the inventory of his property noted several items of interest : two globes and a sphere which, the record stated, were made available to Treytorrents’ heirs.
Between 1802 and 1807, Prof Emmanuel Develey and a certain C. Chavanne were given custody of several scientific devices belonging to the Lausanne Academy. These devices were made available to Develey for his courses. The list includes two globes, which are described as follows: “a terrestrial globe and a celestial one roughly one foot in diameter by De l’Isle”. Given the globes’ size and formal attribution to the French geographer, again this appears to rule out a connection to Mercator.
The Catalogue du cabinet de physique du Citoyen [Henri] Struve (ACV Bdd 156-08 and Bdd 156-09), a document that though undated is certainly older than 1826, also indicates terrestrial and celestial globes along with a “répresentation du système du monde” (sic). These may be the same globes as those referred to in the Treytorrens inventory, but without any description it is difficult either to confirm or deny the hypothesis.
Jean-François Loude, an honorary professor at the University of Lausanne, notes that this same catalogue mentions two balusters. At first blush the descriptions are rather mysterious: “Machines de Socin” and “Machines qui ne sont pas de Socin”. Now the very well-known Cabinet Socin belonged to a certain Abel Socin (1729-1808), a native of Basel who sold the practice in 1794 to Prof Emmanuel Develey who in turn sold it to Henri Struve a year later. This explains the origin of a large portion of the physics instruments catalogued in 1825.
Before returning to Basel in 1778, Socin worked for many years in Hanau, near Frankfurt, and very probably assembled many of the tools of his practice there. Were the Mercator globes part of that kit? It would likely be interesting to explore this Socin connection further.
Of course, several other professors took charge of Lausanne’s astronomy department during the years that followed and could have just as easily been behind the globes’ acquisition :
- Charles Dufour (1874-1901)
- Louis Maillard (1902-1928)
- César-Auguste Juvet (1928-1936)
- Georges César Tiercy (1936-1957)
- Pierre Javet (1955-1975), qui fut le premier directeur de l’Institut d’astronomie (1966-1975)
- Bernard Hauck (1976-2002)
In conclusion, despite tapping numerous sources the investigators found nothing to prove that the Mercator globes had been either bequeathed or donated to the Academy or the University of Lausanne. Thus, the question of their origin remains unanswered.
Find out more
- Histoire abrégée de l’Académie de Lausanne, depuis son origine par Alexandre César Chavannes Professeur dans l’Académie de Lausanne (1780) : original document conserved at the Archives of the Canton of Vaud.
- Extrais de l’inventaire pris dans la maison du défun Professeur De Treytorrens (1794) : original document conserved at the Archives of the Canton of Vaud, ACV Bdd 156.
- Catalogue du Cabinet de Physique du Citoyen Struve : original document conserved at the Archives of the Canton of Vaud, ACV Bdd 156 19.
- Note des Instrumens de Mathématiques appartenans à l’Académie de Lausanne (1802-1807) : original document conserved at the Archives of the Canton of Vaud, AVC Bdd 156.