Aratea

Aratea Facsimile Edition

Aachen (Germany) / Metz (France) — After 825

At the behest of the emperor: the ancient text on the stars by Aratus of Soli as a Carolingian masterpiece for the son of Charlemagne

  1. Commissioned sometime after 825 by Louis the Pious (778–840), the second Holy Roman Emperor

  2. The text by the ancient Greek poet Aratus of Soli (ca. 315–240 BC) is rooted in Greek mythology

  3. The manuscript is simultaneously a Carolingian work of art with 39 miniatures and a guidebook for navigation

Aratea

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Aratea

The Aratea is an astronomical textbook, which is oriented on the ancient example of the text Phaenomena by the poet Aratos of Soloi. The work comprises 200 pages with 39 large illustrations, which explain the planets, celestial phenomena, and weather signs. As in the Phaenomena, the figures and forms of ancient Greek mythology serve the author of the Aratea as the foundation of his astronomy. Shimmering gold leaf contrasts with dark blue backgrounds in the miniatures, which are based on ancient models and are of extraordinary quality. The work is a milestone of both miniature painting as well as astronomy and astrology that enjoyed popularity over the centuries, as evidenced by its numerous translations. It was commissioned by Louis the Pious, son and heir of Emperor Charlemagne and a learned patron of the arts and science, most likely as a gift for his wife Judith.

Aratea

The Aratea is a treatise on astronomy, oriented toward the ancient example of the text Phaenomena by the poet Aratus of Soli. The work is comprised of 200 pages with 39 large illustrations, which explain the planets, celestial phenomena, and rising of the fixed stars. As in the Phaenomena, the figures and forms of ancient Greek mythology serve the author of the Aratea as the foundation of his astronomy. The work is a milestone of teaching about the stars that enjoyed popularity over the centuries, as evidenced by its numerous translations.

A work with a history

The Aratea originates from the 9th century in the time of Emperor Louis the Pious. It was probably given on behalf of his second wife Judith, who was known as a great patron of the arts. The work was initially translated into Latin by the Roman general Caesar Claudius Germanicus and was copied into Gothic script in the 13th century. At this time the codex resided at the northern French abbey of St. Bertin. The manuscript was acquired in the 16th century by the Belgian humanist Jakob Susius, it later came to the philosopher Hugo Grotius and finally to Queen Christina of Sweden. She gave the text to her librarian Isaac Vossius, who left it in his inheritance to the Leiden University Library, where it remains to this day.

Valuable not only for artistic but also practical applications

The unusually beautiful paintings and text of the Aratea not only made the manuscript an ornament in the owner’s library, but it also had a practical use. At the end of antiquity and in the early middle ages, the constellations of the night’s sky served people as a sign post, indicating the time of day, the changing of the seasons, and assisted in the prediction of weather. Consequently the manuscript was a practical guidebook for voyagers at sea and also for its readers on land.

A milestone of illumination

The 39 full-page miniatures, framed in luminous red, were completed by an unusually talented but unfortunately anonymous illuminator. The artist chose a deep dark blue for the background of his illustrations and used the finest gold leaf for his portrayals of the constellations. Every exposure to light can make the stars shine, thus the artist succeeded in creating a true to life copy of a clear night’s sky. The depictions of the animated figures from ancient archetypes are powerful and lively. Few other artists succeeded in their time at achieving such artistic sophistication with so few materials. The text of the Aratea is found on separate pages of the codex, so as not to disrupt the gorgeous paintings. This illumination technique was little short of groundbreaking and was first employed in this manuscript.

Codicology

Size / Format
200 pages / 22.5 × 20.0 cm
Origin
Germany
Date
After 825
Language
Illustrations
39 full-page miniatures
Patron
Louis the Pious (reigned 813/814–840) and his wife Judith (c. 800–843)
Previous Owners
Abbey of St. Bertin in St. Omer
Jacob Susius (Ghent)
Hugo Grotius
Queen Christina of Sweden
Isaak Voss

Available facsimile editions:
Aratea – Ms. Voss. Lat. Q. 79 – Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit (Leiden, Netherlands) Facsimile Edition
Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 1987
Limited Edition: 980 copies
Detail Picture

Aratea

Leo

Although the gold leaf stars do not actually correspond to the constellation Leo, this Carolingian miniature of the zodiac sign is a surprisingly accurate depiction of a male lion. Close examination of the head and torso reveals subtle brushstrokes creating natural body contours and a realistic mane. With claws extended, the paws are depicted with a similar level of detail. The artist must have either been working from some extremely accurate models, or perhaps saw a lion in a menagerie.

Aratea
Single Page

Aratea

Ophiuchus, Serpens & Scorpius

These miniatures appear to be copies of a manuscript from Late Antiquity. They are evidence that the 9th century was not a Dark Age but an epoch that carried on the traditions of antiquity. This is a figural depiction of the Ophiuchus constellation, from the Greek for “snake-bearer”, paired with the Serpens constellation, which represents the snake.

The miniature’s deep blue background allows for the contrast of the red-orange frame and figure as well as the gold leaf, which shows the positions of the individual stars of the two constellations. Standing atop the Scorpio zodiac sign, the male figure is remarkable for its anatomical accuracy with well-developed muscles in the calves, buttocks, and back. Despite its simplicity, it is a mesmerizing image.

Aratea
Facsimile Editions

#1 Aratea

Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 1987

Publisher: Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 1987
Limited Edition: 980 copies
Binding: The napped natural leather binding corresponds to the recent binding of the original book.
Commentary: 1 volume (More than 200 pages) by Pieter F. J. Obbema, Florentine Mütherich, Prof. Bruce Eastwood, Bernhard Bischoff andThomas A.-P. Klein
Language: German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
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