58 hand-colored woodcuts by Michael Ostendorfer (1490/94-1559) and Hans Brosamer (1494-1554) adorn one of the most beautiful scientific works of all time

Astronomicum Caesareum

Germany — 1540

Astronomicum Caesareum

Astronomicum Caesareum

Germany — 1540

  1. The magnificent masterpiece of 16th-century book art took eight years to complete

  2. It was written by the German humanist scholar, professor, and publisher Peter Apian (1495-1552)

  3. Published in 1540, it is dedicated to Emperors Charles V (1500-58) and Ferdinand I (1503-64)

Astronomicum Caesareum

Alternative Titles:
  • Peter Apian: Astronomicum Caesareum
  • Petrus Apianus: Astronomicum Caesareum
Astronomicum Caesareum
  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

A magnificently adorned scientific work summarizing the state of astronomical knowledge in the mid-16th century: the Astronomicum Caesareum by Peter Apian. Apian was a leading German humanist and a true Renaissance man active as a mathematician, astronomer, cartographer, professor, and printer. His work, published in 1540, is considered to be the last great creation of Ptolemaic astronomy and shows the state of the field before the publication of the heliocentric theory presented by Nicolaus Copernicus just three years later. 58 hand-colored woodcuts created by Michael Ostendorfer and Hans Brosamer illustrate the text, which is also furnished with 21 rotating paper discs for calculating the position of celestial bodies.

Astronomicum Caesareum

Also known as Petrus Apianus, Peter Apian (1495-1552) was a prominent German humanist, mathematician, astronomer, and cartographer. The author of various works, his Astronomicum Caesareum is considered by many as "perhaps the most beautiful scientific book ever printed" (Brashear, Ronald, Daniel Lewis, and Owen Gingerich. 2001.) Published in 1540, the work predated De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, the groundbreaking treatise on a heliocentric solar system by Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), by only three years. The book was thus scientifically very quickly outdated for the time. Not a few astronomers of the following generations – among them Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) – therefore expressed derision concerning this work. It was not until the 20th century that this last great creation of Ptolemaic astronomy attracted the attention of researchers as well as that of bibliophile collectors.

A True Renaissance Man

Probably born Peter Bienewitz in Leisnig an der Mulde in Saxony as the son of a successful shoemaker, he studied at the universities of Leipzig and Vienna. Since the imperial court had a keen interest in astrology and astronomy, the University of Vienna had long been a center for the study of astronomy as well as geography and mathematics. From Vienna, Apian went to Regensburg and then Landshut in 1523, eventually teaching mathematics at University of Ingolstadt from 1526 until his death in 1552. However, applied mathematics – astronomy and geodesy – were not particularly popular subjects there and mainly medical students attended Apian's lectures on astronomy. Physicians needed basic astronomical knowledge, for example in connection with bloodletting therapy, in order to determine the ideal times for their interventions.

One of the Original Self-Publishers

At the same time, he ran a print shop in Ingolstadt together with his brother Georg. There, in addition to Peter Apian's own works, they mainly printed those of Johann Eck (1486-1543), a fellow professor and most important theological opponent to Martin Luther (1483-1546). By operating the print shop, Apian did not merely want to tap additional sources of income, but above all to make himself independent of outside printers. In order to avoid errors in the printing of their works, which were difficult to typeset, quite a few famous astronomers in the early modern era – such as Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) or Johannes Hevelius (1611-87) – operated their own printing workshops. Apian's first significant astronomical publication was the Instrument Book, printed in 1533, in which he describes scientific instruments that served astronomers, surveyors, and navigators alike.

A Masterpiece of Science and Printing

Printed in 1540, the large-format Astronomicum Caesareum is a magnificent masterpiece of 16th-century book art that took eight years to complete. The number of printed copies is unknown. However, 111 copies have survived to this day, 34 of which are in Germany. The hand coloring was already done in Apian's workshop, which was rather unusual at that time. After the publication of the Astronomicum Caesareum, Apian's print shop largely ceased its work and was sold after his death. Apian dedicated the work to Emperor Charles V (1500-58) and his brother Emperor Ferdinand I (1503-64), who both financed the printing and made the author a rich man. Moreover, the book earned him the title of court mathematician and elevation to the peerage.

Encyclopedia of the Stars

The Astronomicum Caesareum summarizes the state of astronomical knowledge in the mid-16th century. In the foreground of the first part is the representation of the planetary movements and the determination of the position of the celestial bodies, which made the work interesting not least for astrologers. The movements of the celestial bodies are illustrated with the help of 21 rotating discs made of paper, the so-called volvelles. The Astronomicum Caesareum is thus not only a theoretical astronomy book, but at the same time a scientific instrument with which the position of the sun, moon and planets can be determined. Such rotating representations can already be found in Apian’s earlier writings and are part of a tradition going back to the 15th century. In total, the work includes 58 hand-colored woodcuts created by Michael Ostendorfer (1490/94-1559) and Hans Brosamer (1494-1554). The introductory celestial map lists the 1,022 stars known to Apian and the second part of the work deals with astronomical instruments and comets. Apian, by the way, was the first to recognize that the tail of a comet always faces away from the Sun.


Alternative Titles
Peter Apian: Astronomicum Caesareum
Petrus Apianus: Astronomicum Caesareum
Size / Format
60 folios / 45.5 × 32.5 cm
Numerous woodcuts
Astronomical treatises with numerous volvelles
Artist / School

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „Astronomicum Caesareum“

Astronomicum Caesareum

Astronomicum Caesareum

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Edition Leipzig – Leipzig, 1967
Limited Edition
750 copies
1 volume by Diedrich Wattenberg
Languages: German, English
More Information
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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