The original manuscript of Copernicus’ groundbreaking theory of the heliocentric universe in a marvelous binding with gold, silver, and gemstones

Nicolaus Copernicus - De Revolutionibus

Nuremberg (Germany) — ca 1520–1541

Nicolaus Copernicus - De Revolutionibus

Nicolaus Copernicus - De Revolutionibus

Nuremberg (Germany) — ca 1520–1541

  1. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) worked on his astronomical treatise for 30+ years

  2. The original manuscript written in his hand also features 162 explanatory charts and figures

  3. It has passed through various hands and been lost and found throughout the centuries

Nicolaus Copernicus - De Revolutionibus

Alternative Titles:
  • Nicolaus Copernicus - De revolutionibus orbium coelestium libri VI
Nicolaus Copernicus - De Revolutionibus
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

Few other treatises from the Middle Ages have been of such great significance for science, philosophy, mathematics, and the natural history of the universe as De revolutionibus. The magnum opus of Nicolaus Copernicus was the work of more than 30 years of labor and the original manuscript from the hand of the genius is presented here, which finally made its way back to Cracow after a tumultuous ownership history. The unbelievably influential text is a milestone in the astronomy of the modern era. It provoked a revolution in the thinking of the medieval population and was an absolute standard work of science until the late 18th century. This groundbreaking treatise is housed in a luxury binding consisting of gold and silver, 320 gemstones including turquoises, corals, malachite, lapis lazuli, sunstone, and Swarovski crystals as well as a fragment of the Muonionalusta meteorite, which was discovered in Sweden in 1906. The décor includes a portrait of Copernicus and a depiction of his heliocentric model.

Nicolaus Copernicus - De Revolutionibus

Contrary to popular belief, the title that Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) gave the original manuscript was just De Revolutionibus, the longer title was only applied later to printed edition without the author’s permission. The work belongs among the milestones of astronomy during the modern era. It is a key work of the so-called Copernican Revolution and is considered to be a paradigm for a scientific revolution, in which the reigning medieval geocentric worldview was replaced by a heliocentric one. The findings of Copernicus regarding the Earth and the Universe were groundbreaking in every regard. His theories were based in mathematics and science and did away with religious superstition.

Copernicus’ Original Manuscript

The original manuscript consists of 21 notebooks, so-called signatures, consisting of 8-12 pages each, which are written in neat columns by Copernicus himself. His handwriting varies between a rushed, but shapely italic and an easier, more vertical style. This indicates that the genius was sometimes in a rush to capture the thoughts in his head, while at other times was able to leisurely explore and articulate his ideas. Copernicus filled the margins with 162 geometric figures carefully drawn by hand with a pen, compass, and ruler as well as tables created with a mix of black and red ink.

A Milestone of Astronomy

The work by Copernicus is a milestone of astronomy and its significance for the scientific and cultural history of the modern era can hardly be overestimated. Here, scientific research is very closely linked with philosophical questions. Inspired by the sources of Greek antiquity, above all Aristarchus of Samos, Heraclides Ponticus, and Philolaus, Copernicus developed a new worldview. Accordingly, the Earth moves along its own access and orbits the sun as the central star, like the other known planets. The Earth was seen as the stationary center of the universe for more than two thousand years before Copernicus, who debunked millennia-old, unchallenged arguments against a mobile Earth. He discerned the heliocentric theory through decades of astronomical observations as well as mathematic calculations. Thus, he was able to soundly substantiate his groundbreaking theories. His work possesses such charisma that other scientists, especially Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei, built upon it and the great change of perspective was universally accepted only two hundred years later.

From Theory to Publication

Copernicus had already begun recording his theory in a short treatise ca. 1509, the so-called Commentariolus, a few excerpts of which were publically disclosed. After that, he was occupied with its scientific elaboration for 30+ years and began to transcribe his work ca. 1530. Numerous sources from this time exist in which the new theory was disseminated and discussed in the learned circles of Europe. In 1533, Pope Clement VII had his secretary explain it in a lecture.

The Fate of the Precious Manuscript

Held today in Cracow’s Jagiellonian University Library, the original manuscript of De revolutionibus has passed through many hands over the centuries and has an interesting ownership history. After Copernicus’ death, the manuscript was inherited by bishop Tiedemann Giese and later by Georg Rheticus, a doctor at the court of the King of Poland, Sigismund II Augustus (1520-72) in Cracow. After Rheticus’ death it was inherited by his student, Valentine Otho, who took it to Heidelberg where he was a professor of mathematics. After Otho’s death, the manuscript was bought by a professor of astronomy, Jacob Christmann. He had it bound and added a note about the author, which replaced the lost front page, and used parts of the manuscript in his own work about movements of the Moon in 1611.

Disapearence and Rediscovery

Later, the manuscript was bought by Czech scientist, Jan Amos Komeński, who was an opponent of the Copernicus’ theory for his whole life. It is not known when he sold the manuscript, but it is probable that he sold it as he was afraid to keep a book that was listed as a banned in 1616. The fate of the manuscript for the following 50 years remains unknown. In 1677, it was found in the Otto von Nostitz Library where it was registered under the shelf mark MSe21. Nositz’s nephew brought it along with the rest of his library from Silesia to his castle in Prague, where it remained forgotten for many years until it was rediscovered in the 1930’s by the library’s custodian Karl Hillard, PHD. In 1956, the Czech government agreed to exchange the manuscript for the work of some Czech authors, and it was thus returned to Cracow.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Nicolaus Copernicus - De revolutionibus orbium coelestium libri VI
Size / Format
426 pages / 22.8 × 19.8 cm
Date
ca 1520–1541
Language
Artist / School

2 available facsimile edition(s) of „Nicolaus Copernicus - De Revolutionibus“

Nicolaus Copernicus - De Revolutionibus
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Nicolaus Copernicus - De Revolutionibus

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Manuscriptum – Warsaw, 2017
Limited Edition
99 copies (Deluxe Edition)
Binding
The precious leather cover of the deluxe edition (No. 1-99) is adorned with fine silver and 24-carat gold and decorated with more than 320 gemstones (a meteorite, several turquoises, corals, malachites, lapis lazuli, sunstones and Swarovski crystals). Also embedded in the cover of the book is a portrait of Nicolaus Copernicus.
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.
Nicolaus Copernicus - De Revolutionibus
Imageof

Nicolaus Copernicus - De Revolutionibus

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Manuscriptum – Warsaw, 2017
Limited Edition
200 copies (Normal Edition)
Binding
Standard edition (Nr. 100-299)
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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