Boulogne-sur-Mer Aratea

Boulogne-sur-Mer Aratea – PIAF – Ms 188 – Bibliothèque municipale des Annonciades (Boulogne-sur-Mer, France)

Benedictine Abbey of St. Bertin (France) — 10th century

The ancient starry sky in a richly decorated, splendid Carolingian manuscript: The marvelous constellations of Aratos of Soloi in 42 opulent miniatures of luminous colors and radiant gold

  1. This Aratea manuscript was possibly created under Abbot Odbert (986–1008) as a copy of the famous Leiden Aratea

  2. It contains Germanicus' Latin translation of the Phainomena of Aratos of Soloi (ca. 315–240 BC)

  3. The text is illuminated with two beautiful diagrams and 40 splendid miniatures of constellations and personifications

Boulogne-sur-Mer Aratea

Ms 188 Bibliothèque municipale des Annonciades (Boulogne-sur-Mer, France)
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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
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  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Boulogne-sur-Mer Aratea

With its elaborate, gold-decorated astronomical illuminations, the Boulogne-sur-Mer Aratea is a true gem of Carolingian book art. Created in the Northern French Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Bertin during the 10th century on the basis of the famous Leiden Aratea, this ornate manuscript contains a calendar, a comprehensive computistic treatise, and a special version of the Latin Germanicus translation of the widely received astrological treatise Phainomena by Aratos of Soloi (c. 315–240 BC). This ancient classic is accompanied by two fascinating full-page diagrams of the celestial sphere and the planets, as well as 40 luminous miniatures of constellations and personifications, adorned with precious gold details. They are remarkably close to the original iconography of Late Antiquity and inspired further copies.

Boulogne-sur-Mer Aratea

The Aratea from the Bibliothèque municipale in Boulogne-sur-Mer is without question one of the finest astrological manuscripts from the Carolingian period. It seems to descend from the somewhat better known Leiden Aratea and was itself the inspiration for another Aratea manuscript, now kept in the Burgerbibliothek in Bern, which also originated in the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Bertin in northern France, a medieval center of book art. There, the Boulogne-sur-Mer Aratea was created sometime after 905 AD, with characteristics of the script and style of illuminations pointing to the period under Abbot Odbert (986–1008).

An Ancient Classic in the Latin Middle Ages.

The Greek Stoic Aratos of Soloi combined complex astronomical mathematics with vivid mythological stories in his Phainomena, written around 370 BC. This probably explains the popularity the work enjoyed in antiquity and throughout the Middle Ages after being rediscovered during the Carolingian Renaissance. Accordingly, the ancient Greek text was translated and adapted several times, for example by Germanicus in the 1st century AD and Avienus in the middle of the 4th century AD. The Boulogne-sur-Mer Aratea contains a special version of the Germanicus translation, into which individual passages by Avienus were integrated. In this manuscript, the astrological treatise follows a calendar and a comprehensive computistical text used to calculate the date of Easter.

Greek Constellations in Splendid Colors and Gold

The Latin translation is accompanied by gorgeous miniatures in bright colors that mainly show constellations and are very close to the original iconography of late antiquity. The respective part of the astrological treatise has been executed in two columns, with the left column occupied by two red-framed constellation miniatures each, whose aesthetics are defined by their monochrome, radiant-blue background. The text in the right column was executed in a neat Capitalis Rustica with red-green initials. Two full-page diagrams provide the frame for this ornate main part of the manuscript, showing the famous planisphere and a planetary diagram. The final part of the treatise has been illuminated with the personifications of Sol, Sun, and Luna, Moon. Thereby subtle and at the same time splendid gold applications pervade all miniatures and make the codex a precious gem of Carolingian art.


Alternative Titles
Aratea von Boulogne-sur-Mer
Size / Format
66 pages / 36.0 × 28.0 cm
10th century
Carolingian minuscule, uncial, Capitalis rustica
42 miniatures and diagrams
Calendar, computistical treatise, Germanicus Aratea

Available facsimile editions:
Boulogne-sur-Mer Aratea – PIAF – Ms 188 – Bibliothèque municipale des Annonciades (Boulogne-sur-Mer, France)
PIAF – Madrid, 2023
Limited Edition: 400 copies
Detail Picture

Boulogne-sur-Mer Aratea


The constellation Auriga, engl. charioteer, is shown here in a splendid robe with gold bands. According to the description of the text he holds a gold stick in his right hand. However, instead of extending his left hand to steer the cart, he holds in it two tiny green billy goats, complemented by another one on his shoulder. This iconographic tradition goes back to earlier ancient depictions that show the constellation as a shepherd with a goat over his shoulder. The name of the constellation's main star also goes back to this origin: Capella, meaning "kid".

Boulogne-sur-Mer Aratea – PIAF – Ms 188 – Bibliothèque municipale des Annonciades (Boulogne-sur-Mer, France)
Single Page

Boulogne-sur-Mer Aratea

Planetary diagram

The wonderful miniatures of the constellations are followed by this elaborate full-page diagram showing the planets as personifications in medallions of different sizes on their orbits. In keeping with the geocentric worldview of the time, the Earth (Terra) is shown in the center: Her personification lies casually on stony ground against a gray-blue background. While Luna moves around the Earth with two pink cows, Venus and Mercury orbit Sol, who rides two horses in a red cloak. Further out are Mars wearing a red cloak and hat, Jupiter riding an eagle, and Saturn in a blue toga.

Framing this depiction is a wide, orange ring that alternately shows the zodiacal signs and the personifications of the months. The latter, like the planets, appear against a luminous gold background that makes the illumination particularly magnificent.

Boulogne-sur-Mer Aratea – PIAF – Ms 188 – Bibliothèque municipale des Annonciades (Boulogne-sur-Mer, France)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Boulogne-sur-Mer Aratea

PIAF – Madrid, 2023

Publisher: PIAF – Madrid, 2023
Limited Edition: 400 copies
Binding: Brown leather binding
Commentary: 1 volume (in preparation, first half of 2024)
Language: Spanish
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.
New Publication
Publisher's price (new)
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