Monday, March 27, 2006

Astral Tracts








These minature paintings of astronomical constellation figures come from a 1460-1470 manuscript called De Sideribus Tractatus, online in 3 thumbnail pages at NYPL. The scribe is noted as Francesco Buzzacarini.

The alternative titles of the work are De Astronomia or Poetica Astronomica. It seems that these terms are more usually applied to printed versions which first appeared in ~1475. In any event all of these books, including the above manuscript, have generally been held to be transcriptions/derivations of a 1st century A.D. astronomical treatise by the Spaniard, Gaius Julius Hyginus (who in turn based his work on the Greek Eratosthenes from a century or 2 earlier).

Poetica Astronomica includes almost all of the Ptolemaic constellations and provides descriptions of myths relating to the stars. The rudimentary nature of the astronomical commentary and the presence of so many constellations strongly suggests that the very learned Hyginus was not the final author. I gather it's not a settled issue. [Ptolemy lived a century or so after Hyginus]

There's a page of thumbnails of the plain woodblock prints from a 1482 version of De Astronomia at the US Naval Observatory Library.
[Linda Hall library have the complete book for any latin freaks aficionados]

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