Historic Celestial Atlas Illustrations
December 13, 2007 10:32 AM   Subscribe

In 1627, Schiller's Coelum Stellatum Christianum attempted to replace the mythical constellation figures with Christian figures. More from the Linda Hall Library Digital Services Unit. Art, illustration, and astronomy aficionados will appreciate the beauty of historic celestial atlas illustrations: Bayer's Uranometria 1603 (also the 1661 Edition), Flamsteed - Fortin Atlas Celeste - 1776 (text intro), Celestial Atlas by Alexander Jamieson. HubbleSource is cleaning up scans from one historic atlas and making them available in web and hi-res versions for use in non-commercial applications. (See also: David Rumsey Map Collection, and the exhibition Out of this World (index & T.O.C.), more Images, Artwork and Historical Objects at the US Naval Observatory.

Note: Some of the links above have been posted previously.
posted by spock (16 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
St. Peter's boat, formerly Ursa Major (Big Bear/Big Dipper), St. Michael the Archangel, formerly Ursa Minor (Little Bear/Little Dipper).
posted by spock at 10:39 AM on December 13, 2007

See also: Urania’s Mirror, a boxed set of 32 constellation cards first published by Samuel Leigh of the Strand, London, in or shortly before 1825.
posted by spock at 10:45 AM on December 13, 2007

Warning: You could spend a lot of time at the "more" link alone.
posted by spock at 10:47 AM on December 13, 2007

Neat! I like to say "flamsteed".
posted by Mister_A at 10:50 AM on December 13, 2007

I miss the old flamsteed.
posted by Horken Bazooka at 10:59 AM on December 13, 2007

"The urge to redesign the sky is hardly new. In the 6th century AD, Gregory of Tours, a Frankish bishop and historian, wanted no part of the astrology and astral religion of the ancients. In his treatise De Cursu Stellarum (“On the Course of the Stars”), he replaced the traditional figures with more suitable Christian imagery. Cygnus, the Swan, became the Greater Cross. Delphinus, the Dolphin, and Lyra, the Harp, which flank Cygnus, were transformed into Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In Christian symbolism, they represent totality and often accompany the Cross.
Similarly disturbed by the pagan origin of the ancient constellations, Bede of Jarrow, an English monk, advocated replacement of the 12 constellations of the zodiac with 11 Apostles and John the Baptist.Almost a millennium later, in 1627, Julius Schiller’s biblical reformation of the sky turned all of the constellations into a new celestial testament. Schiller was a German Catholic lawyer committed to astronomical cartography. His Coelum Stellatum Christianum populated the northern celestial hemisphere with New Testament figures like Mary Magdalene (Cassiopeia), St. Peter’s Boat (Ursa Major), and the Apostle Paul (Perseus). Characters from the Old Testament, including King David (Canis Major) and Abraham and Isaac (Centaurus), put chapter and verse into the southern half of the sky. Although the Dutch cartographer Andreas Cellarius included Schiller’s scripturally correct skies in Harmonia Macrocosmica seu Atlas Universalis et Novus in 1660, Schiller’s evangelical astronomy did not permanently convert the constellations to Christianity." (via Private Astronomy - PDF)
posted by spock at 11:17 AM on December 13, 2007

You know, this would be ideal for some kind of alt-history story where the enlightenment never happened.
posted by Artw at 11:43 AM on December 13, 2007

Brilliant stuff.
posted by WPW at 1:41 PM on December 13, 2007

Excellent post, thank you.
posted by generalist at 2:09 PM on December 13, 2007

Nice post!

If we're going to revamp the constellations MetaFilterically, I get dibs on Ursa Major.
posted by languagehat at 3:15 PM on December 13, 2007

I can see why it never caught on there. Instead of The Lion, The Scorpion, The Bull and so forth, you've got The guy with the stick, the guy sitting down, the guy with two sticks and on in that vein.
posted by Grimgrin at 3:58 PM on December 13, 2007

First of all, great post!

Art, illustration and astronomy afficionados might also appreciate H. A. Rey's (yes, that H. A. Rey) The Stars: A New Way to Look at Them.

One problem with traditional constellation drawings is that their connection to the star layout could be charitably described as fanciful at best. Curious George's dad sticks with the traditional Western sky culture, but redraws them in a more-cartoony style, making them much more easy to recognize and remember. Compare this (from Edward Tufte's blog entry on the book) to this.

I say astronomy afficionados "might" appreciate Rey's book because many belittle the book -- the drawings aren't traditional, Rey replaces Greek and Latin names with English, he employs dimmer stars to make his drawings work. Yes, all of that is true but Rey's method nonetheless is a great, non-intimidating introduction to getting acquainted with the sky (hey, it worked for me.)
posted by Opposite George at 4:40 PM on December 13, 2007

The astronomical graphics of Guy Ottewell are quite remarkable as well.
posted by lathrop at 8:12 PM on December 13, 2007

Thanks for this!
It's said that there were four great star atlases - Bayer in 1603; Hevelius in 1690 (b&w); Flamsteed in 1729 and Bode in 1801 (b&w; colour).
These are both excellent resources too:
--Historical Celestial Atlases on the Web
--Atlas Coelestis homesite.
(psst! The St Peter's Boat linky is borked)
posted by peacay at 4:32 AM on December 14, 2007

Corrected St. Peter's Boat linky.
posted by spock at 5:54 AM on December 14, 2007

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