The eternal fascination with the night sky: a collection of the most beautiful miniatures from medieval astronomical and astrological manuscripts

On the Stars

Paris (France); Bruges (Flanders) and others — 9th-16th cemtury

On the Stars

On the Stars

Paris (France); Bruges (Flanders) and others — 9th-16th cemtury

  1. Astronomical models depicting planetary orbits in a series of concentric circles have their root in antiquity

  2. By the Late Middle Ages, all seven planets would be depicted plus four more circles for fire, air, water, and earth

  3. All is surrounded by a sphere of fixed stars held up by the angels – the medieval concept of the universe

Kassette Von den Gestirnen

Astrolabium Planum of Heidelberg

Astroloabe with Zodiac Signs

A central disc revolves around a stylized sun with an inscribed moon: in the inner ring, the moon phases are marked with Arabic numerals and shown schematically next to them, in the outer ring, the Zodiac signs are artfully depicted with an inscribed constellation. The twelve hours are marked on the outer ring with Roman numerals. Berthold Furtmeyr’s wonderful color palette makes the image burst from the page and the sun in the middle casts an almost hypnotic gaze on the beholder.

On the Stars

Alternative Titles:
  • Kassette Von den Gestirnen
On the Stars – Several Owners
On the Stars – Several Owners
On the Stars – Several Owners
On the Stars – Several Owners
On the Stars – Several Owners
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

The ancients’ knowledge of astronomy was mostly lost in the West after the Fall of Rome, but this spurred great interest in studying the stars. Although long outclassed by their counterparts in the Islamic World, medieval Europeans made important contributions to astronomy. Astronomical models depicting planetary orbits in a series of concentric circles have their root in antiquity but became common in the Middle Ages. By the Late Middle Ages, it was typical for all seven planets to be depicted, plus four more circles under the moon for fire, air, water, and earth. All of these were surrounded by a sphere of fixed stars held up by the angels. Astronomy manuscripts are counted among the finest examples of medieval miniature painting, they represent the splendid fusion of art and science.

On the Stars

Western astronomy stagnated after the Fall of Rome and began to revive during the Scholastic Renaissance of the 12th century. Nonetheless, the work was continued by people like Saint Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636), who attempted to reconcile the knowledge of ancient philosophers and scholars with that of the Church Fathers. Medieval astronomers sought to establish a symbiotic relationship between the principles of Ptolemy’s astronomy and those of Aristotle’s physics, and to reconcile the differences between them. Scholars from the Arab world were particularly distinguished as astronomers. Depicting the theories and findings of the great stargazers of history was the task of illuminators who created a genre of medieval manuscripts that boasts some of the most skillful and complex miniature painting to survive from the period. European treatises on the stars began to proliferate in the 15th century and took advantage of the more sophisticated techniques employed by Renaissance artists to represent the content of the texts being produced by astronomers at the time. Some of these works even sought to elucidate a connection between astronomy/astrology and health/medicine.
These ten pages offer an overview of splendidly illuminated medieval astronomical manuscripts:
1. Ursa Major and Ursa Minor
Aratea, Leiden University Library
Frankish Empire, 9th century

  1. An Angel
    Cosmography of Al-Kaswini, Staatsbibliothek, Munich
    Iraq, 1280

  2. Two Astronomers
    Astronomical Manuscript of King Wenceslaus IV, Österreichische Nationalbilbiothek, Vienna
    Prague, 1392-93

  3. Alfonsine Star Tables
    Astronomical Manuscript of King Wenceslaus IV, Österreichische Nationalbilbiothek, Vienna
    Prague, 1392-93

  4. January with the Zodiac Signs Capricorn and Aquarius
    Tres riches heures de Duc de Berry, Musee Conde, Chantilly
    Paris, ca. 1413

  5. June with the Zodiac Sign Cancer
    Bedford Hours, The British Library, London
    London, ca. 1420

  6. Venus
    De Sphaera, Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, Modena
    Upper Italy, ca. 1450-1470

  7. The Sun
    Natur des Weltalls, Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel
    Utrecht, 1465-1470

  8. Sundial with Zodiac Signs
    Astrolabium Planum of Heidelberg, Heidelberg University Library
    Regensburg, ca. 1491

  9. The Anatomical Zodiac Man
    Golden Calendar of Albert Glockendon from 1526, Staatsbibliothek, Berlin
    Nuremberg, 1526

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Kassette Von den Gestirnen
Date
9th-16th cemtury
Illustrations
10 miniatures
Content
Ten leaves from important manuscripts
Kassette Von den Gestirnen

Astronomical Manuscript of King Wenceslaus IV

The Alfonsine Tables

Used for the calculation of the Sun, Moon, and planets relative to the fixed stars, the so-called Alfonsine Tables were one of the greatest intellectual accomplishments of 13th century Europe. They are named after the man who patronized their creation, King Alfonso X of Castile, a monarch so learned he has both the epithets of The Wise and The Astrologer.

King Alfonso is depicted as a late-14th century monarch in the historiated initial, but this might be simultaneously intended to represent King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia, who commissioned this work, thus associating the two Kings with one another. Wenceslaus was a very educated man and some of the most magnificent illuminated manuscripts of the Gothic period were created at his behest.

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „On the Stars“

Kassette Von den Gestirnen
On the Stars – Several Owners
On the Stars – Several Owners
On the Stars – Several Owners
On the Stars – Several Owners
On the Stars – Several Owners
Imageof

Kassette Von den Gestirnen

1 volume: 10 leaves under passe-partouts: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Coron Verlag – Gütersloh, 2002
Limited Edition
1995 copies
Binding
Box
Commentary
1 volume
Language: German
Price Category: €
Edition available
Price: Login here!
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