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Constellation Cart from Petrus Apianus' Astronomicum Caesareum

Petrus Apianus, Astronomicum Caesareum, 1540

This book, Astronomicum Caesareum (the Emperor’s Astronomy), was published in 1540. It is written and designed by Peter Apian, a professor in astronomy and mathematics at the University of Ingolstadt. While many other books were used by students at European universities, this book was aimed at people who were not experts but wanted to know more about the how the sun and moon, planets and stars moved around the fixed earth (which is what people believed then).

 It is a very large book with over 30 movable wheel charts, sometimes also known as volvelles or Apian Wheels. By turning the different paper dials on the page, the reader can calculate the exact position (the latitude and longitude) of the different planets in the sky. There are also volvelles for calculating the date of Easter as well as critical days of an illness. The pages were printed with ink and the colour was added by hand, so almost every copy is unique.

This illustration is borrowed from two prints produced by Albrecht Dürer in 1515. They were the celestial maps to be printed. He produced one depicting the southern and one the northern hemisphere. In this star map, Peter Apian has combined the two. So, when you look at it you may not recognise all the constellations, as some of them are not visible here in England.

Have a look at some of the other pages from a copy kept at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Look, Think, Do

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