For a long time now, I've been thinking about this: when was the first painting, illustration or depiction of any kind where our planet Earth is seen as a sphere in space? Possibly even from the Moon?

Please note that I'm not talking about the famous photograph actually taken from the Moon when they went there in the late 1960s. Nor am I talking about the black-and-white photo (which has also been colorized) taken a couple of decades earlier from the first camera-fitted weather balloon, which is far too late in history and also doesn't show the entire Earth.

I'm talking about some kind of illustration, preferably ancient, displaying our planet as an orb/sphere surrounded by emptiness and maybe the moon and other planets, but the point is that it's "based on modern scientific understanding" rather than a freeform religious interpretation of what might lay "beyond the big sky dome with painted-on stars".

I hope I'm being clear. Basically, "modern society", if you want to call it that, such as in the 1920s, did not have any space craft nor weather balloon photos, but obviously they at that point knew that the Earth isn't flat and that there is such a thing as space, etc. Oddly enough, I've never seen any such illustrations or paintings of any kind, or, if I have, I certainly cannot remember them.

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    $\begingroup$ There are probably many dozens of such drawings in the $\geq$ 1920s science fiction pulp magazines, such as this (more with this search). Even earlier are likely various advertisements and cover drawings for H. G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 11, 2020 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ Also, spherical globes of the Earth have been around for hundreds of years. And I forgot about various (magazine) advertisements and book-cover drawings for Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 11, 2020 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ "The first known mention of a globe is from Strabo, describing the Globe of Crates from about 150 BC... The classic drawing of the sphere displays the known world, or Oecumene", Wikipedia. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Commented Jul 12, 2020 at 3:58

1 Answer 1


I don't know, but Images of earth from outside had been made for more than 500 years.

A globe of the Earth would seem to count as a "depiction of any kind".

The sphericity of the Earth was established by Greek astronomy in the 3rd century BC, and the earliest terrestrial globe appeared from that period. The earliest known example is the one constructed by Crates of Mallus in Cilicia (now Çukurova in modern-day Turkey), in the mid-2nd century BC.

No terrestrial globes from Antiquity or the Middle Ages have survived. An example of a surviving celestial globe is part of a Hellenistic sculpture, called the Farnese Atlas, surviving in a 2nd-century AD Roman copy in the Naples Archaeological Museum, Italy.[5]

Early terrestrial globes depicting the entirety of the Old World were constructed in the Islamic world.[6][7] According to David Woodward, one such example was the terrestrial globe introduced to Beijing by the Persian astronomer, Jamal ad-Din, in 1267.[8]

The earliest extant terrestrial globe was made in 1492 by Martin Behaim (1459–1537) with help from the painter Georg Glockendon.[5] Behaim was a German mapmaker, navigator, and merchant. Working in Nuremberg, Germany, he called his globe the "Nürnberg Terrestrial Globe." It is now known as the Erdapfel. Before constructing the globe, Behaim had traveled extensively. He sojourned in Lisbon from 1480, developing commercial interests and mingling with explorers and scientists. He began to construct his globe after his return to Nürnberg in 1490.

Another early globe, the Hunt–Lenox Globe, ca. 1510, is thought to be the source of the phrase Hic Sunt Dracones, or “Here be dragons”. A similar grapefruit-sized globe made from two halves of an ostrich egg was found in 2012 and is believed to date from 1504. It may be the oldest globe to show the New World. Stefaan Missine, who analyzed the globe for the Washington Map Society journal Portolan, said it was “part of an important European collection for decades.”[9] After a year of research in which he consulted many experts, Missine concluded the Hunt–Lenox Globe was a copper cast of the egg globe.[9]

A facsimile globe showing America was made by Martin Waldseemueller in 1507. Another "remarkably modern-looking" terrestrial globe of the Earth was constructed by Taqi al-Din at the Constantinople Observatory of Taqi ad-Din during the 1570s.[10]


So there are surviving globes of the Earth dating to about 1500, and mentions of earlier globes of the Earth.

Here is a link to an illustration of the geocentric model o f the universe, dated to 1568.


Note that it not only shows Earth as a globe in the center, but also shows continents. Since the Ptolemaic model of the geocentric universe was published in the 2nd century, there could be surviving diagrams of the Ptolemaic model much older than 1568. And those diagrams would depict Earth as a globe or circle, and perhaps sometimes put some features on it.

The globus cruciger (Latin for "cross-bearing orb"), also known as "the orb and cross", is an orb (Latin: globus) surmounted (Latin: gerere, to wear) by a cross (Latin: crux). It has been a Christian symbol of authority since the Middle Ages, used on coins, in iconography, and with a sceptre as royal regalia.

Holding the world in one's hand, or, more ominously, under one's foot, has been a symbol since antiquity. To citizens of the Roman Empire, the plain spherical globe held by the god Jupiter represented the world or the universe, as the dominion held by the Emperor. A 2nd-century coin from the reign of Emperor Hadrian shows the Roman goddess Salus with her foot upon a globus, and a 4th-century coin from the reign of Emperor Constantine I shows him with a globus in hand. The orbis terrarum was central to the iconography of the Tetrarchy, in which it represented the Tetrarchs' restoration of security to the Roman world

With the growth of Christianity in the 5th century, the orb (in Latin works orbis terrarum, the 'world of the lands', whence "orb" derives) was surmounted with a cross, hence globus cruciger, symbolizing the Christian God's dominion of the world. The Emperor held the world in his hand to show that he ruled it on behalf of God.

So a globus cruciger is an image of the Earth or of the universe with a cross on top for Christianity. Actual physical imperial and royal orbs were made beginning some time in the middle ages.

the present imperial orb of the Holy Roman Empire is dated to western Germany, around the end of the 12th century (c. 1151-1200), but orbs were used earlier. I once read that in an imperial coronation in the 11th century (1001-1100) the emperor's orb was filled with soil from different parts of his realm, showing that the orb symbolized the Earth and not the heavens.

So Earth has been depicted more or less as known to science for at least 500 years and possibly for over 2,000 years.


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