Vatican Aratea

Aratea Vaticana – Müller & Schindler  – MS Barb. lat. 76 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, Vatican City State)

Court of Ferdinand I of Naples, Naples (Italy) — Second half of the 15th century

A splendid astronomical manuscript for King Ferdinand I of Naples or his son: Ancient mythology and the astronomy of Aratos of Soloi in 40 beautiful, gold-adorned Renaissance miniatures by Matteo Felice

  1. This magnificent astronomical manuscript was commissioned by King Ferdinand I of Naples (1424–1494) or his son John (1456–1485)

  2. Matteo Felice illuminated the text with 40 gold-decorated Renaissance miniatures, including a full-page planisphere depicting all of the constellations

  3. Maffeo Barberini, later Pope Urban VIII, had this precious gem adorned with an 16th century embroidered velvet binding

Vatican Aratea

Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)
  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Vatican Aratea

The Vatican Aratea is an astronomical textbook based on the ancient model of the text Phainomena by the poet Aratos of Soloi. Furnished with 40 large gold-decorated miniatures, it explains the planets, celestial phenomena, and weather signs. The reader is introduced to the complex astronomical knowledge by means of mythological stories and figures, which have been artfully translated into pictures by the illuminator Matteo Felice. This magnificent astronomical manuscript was created in the second half of the 15th century for King Ferdinand I of Naples or his son Giovanni and is a wonderful artistic and literary testimony to the early Renaissance in Italy. Its Baroque velvet binding with precious embroidery was commissioned by Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, later Pope Urban VIII.

Courtly Astronomy from Naples

The Vatican Aratea is not only an artistic testimony of the Italian Renaissance, but also one of the most luxurious copies of the famous astronomical didactic poem by Aratos of Soloi (ca. 310–245 BC). Its splendor perfectly reflects its royal patron from the Neapolitan royal court: the precious manuscript was presumably illuminated for King Ferdinand I of Naples (1424–1494) or his son Giovanni (1456–1485) by Matteo Felice with 40 gold-decorated miniatures and numerous decorated initials.

Ancient myths in the starry sky

Aratos of Soloi combined complex astronomical mathematics with vivid mythological stories in his Phainomena, which he wrote around 370 BC. This probably explains the work's popularity in antiquity and throughout the Middle Ages: the text was rediscovered as early as the Carolingian Renaissance, and Italian humanism brought it to the height of its reception. The Greek didactic poem was also translated into Latin several times. The Aratea Vaticana contains the Latin prose version of Germanicus (15 BC – 19 AD), which is complemented in the magnificent miscellany by Pliny's (23/24–79 AD) Naturalis historia and Hyginus' (1st or 2nd century AD) De Astronomia.

Radiant colors and opulent gold decoration

The manuscript begins with the Aratea, which is introduced by a beautiful decorative page. The beginning of the text is framed by a broad gold-decorated border made of white vine ornament typical of the period, in which putti and animals frolic. On fol. 3r follows arguably the most famous miniature in the manuscript: The Planisphere. This stunning circular depiction of the firmament shows all the constellations in vivid colors. The remaining 39 miniatures show the constellations and celestial phenomena inspired by Greek and Roman mythology, mostly one by one and in splendid golden frames and against a celestial background, while the stars shine in red and gold. They visually introduce the respective sections of the text. The typesetting itself – masterfully written in humanistic minuscule – is also adorned and structured by 60 golden champie initials.

A velvet binding for the later Barberini pope

When this astronomical manuscript came into the hands of one of the greatest patrons of the arts in Baroque Rome, Maffeo Barberini (1568–1644), later Pope Urban VIII, in the 16th century, he arranged for it to be rebound. The manuscript received a richly embroidered red velvet binding bearing the Barberini coat of arms on the back cover. The front shows St. Thomas kneeling before a Madonna with child, who appears as the Woman of the Apocalypse, as she is standing on a crescent moon. The manuscript, enhanced with this beautiful binding, was incorporated by Pope Leo XIII in 1901, together with the entire Barberini collection, into the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, where it is still kept today under the signature Barb. lat. 76.


Alternative Titles
Die Aratea Vaticana
Aratea Vaticanus
Aratea Vaticana
Size / Format
200 pages / 23.2 × 15.1 cm
Second half of the 15th century
Humanistic minuscule
40 diagrams and miniatures; 1 elaborately framed incipit page; 60 gold champie initials
Excerpts from Germanicus' Latin translation of the Phaenomena of Aratus, from the Natural History of Pliny the Elder and from Hyginus' De astronomia
Ferdinand I, King of Naples, or his son Giovanni
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Maffeo Barberini

Available facsimile editions:
Aratea Vaticana – Müller & Schindler  – MS Barb. lat. 76 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, Vatican City State)
Müller & Schindler – Simbach am Inn, 2022
Limited Edition: 900 copies
Detail Picture

Vatican Aratea

A royal patron

The opulent decorated frame of the first page provides information about the royal patronage of the manuscript: Four putti bear a gold-fringed laurel wreath embracing the arms of King Ferdinand I, known as Ferrante of Naples. A golden crown also hovers above the blazon with fleurs-de-lys and red stripes. Nevertheless, researchers argue about whether Ferdinand I really commissioned the magnificent manuscript or whether it was his third son John of Naples. However, the only certainty is that a member of the royal family under Ferdinand I had the astronomical gem made.

Aratea Vaticana – Müller & Schindler  – MS Barb. lat. 76 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, Vatican City State)
Single Page

Vatican Aratea


Probably the best-known miniature of the astronomical text represents the magnificent picture page of a celestial map. In this celestial or star map, the position of the constellations in the night sky is reproduced without depicting the individual stars themselves. With the fascination for the celestial sphere, ancient constellations were taken up in medieval manuscripts and treated in various splendid manuscripts. Myths, rites, and cultic worship were attached to astronomy as a science, leading to a fusion of celestial science and mythology. The Aratea Vaticana is one of the most beautiful copies of the Italian Renaissance, based on the ancient Phainomena by the poet Aratos of Soloi.

In the planisphere, the firmament is depicted in five golden circles, in which all the constellations and celestial phenomena are embedded in brilliant colors. The 39 carefully executed depictions were inspired by Greek and Roman mythology and are influenced by Arabic iconography, making this manuscript a treasure of Italian Renaissance artwork.

Aratea Vaticana – Müller & Schindler  – MS Barb. lat. 76 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, Vatican City State)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Die Aratea Vaticana

Müller & Schindler – Simbach am Inn, 2022

Publisher: Müller & Schindler – Simbach am Inn, 2022
Limited Edition: 900 copies
Binding: Embroidered red velvet cover
Commentary: 1 volume by Lola Massolo
Language: English, 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.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)
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