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1592 Munster Celestial Sphere Explaining the Seasons

[Untitled Celestial Sphere]. - Main View

1592 Munster Celestial Sphere Explaining the Seasons


Early astronomical diagram.


[Untitled Celestial Sphere].
  1592 (undated)     11 x 6.5 in (27.94 x 16.51 cm)


This elegant celestial chart is a woodcut illustration from Sebastian Münster's magnum opus, Cosmographia Universalis, entitled in its later editions Cosmographey. Beginning in 1544, this work would be the primary source of information for anyone who wished to know about not only the rest of the world, but the cosmos as it was understood. So, in addition to Münster's better-known maps and views, the first part of his Cosmographia included an array of astronomical charts. The present diagram is meant to explain the mechanism by which the seasons change in different parts of the world. It shows the axis of the Earth's poles in relation to the sun; illustrates the equator, the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn; and shows the apparent axial tilt of the rotation of the heavens around the Earth. (Münster sidesteps the question of whether it is the Earth that rotates, or the heavens around it, although his language in the accompanying text implies somewhat that it is the heavens that move. Copernicus' writings on heliocentrism were still quite new. Although Münster's world map, produced with Grynaeus and Hans Holbein the Younger, suggests that Münster was well aware of the idea of the rotation of the globe.)
Artistic Flourish
Most of the astronomical diagrams appearing in Cosmographia were quite Spartan and small, embedded in the text. Münster lavishes a half page on this image, and the anonymous formschneider added an unusual amount of decoration. The diagram, reminiscent of an armillary sphere, is shown bearing down on the shoulders of two men struggling under the weight of it. The effect is to remind the reader that what is being shown is not a circle but indeed a three-dimensional sphere. These hapless assistants appear to be bearing their burden atop a grassy hill, framed with leafless trees. (Science is hard work.)
The Text: 'Of the circles called Parallels.'
Beginning on the verso, the text accompanying this diagram discusses the seasonal effects of the Earth's angle in relation to the Sun:
... in the first general map [the modern world map, appearing first among the foretext maps in the book] there are lines drawn crosswise over the meridians from west to east; you can perceive these also as circles if you join the figures in a circular fashion. These circles are called the parallels, because they are everywhere the same distance from each other and do not meet each other as do the meridians. There are three named parallels, which all the world knows. These are the Equinoctal circle... where day and night have the same length twice a year. The other is called the midsummer circle, or Cancer, because when the sun reaches it we have the longest day and the middle of summer. the third circle opposite midday is called the winter circle, or the circle of Capricorn. When the sun reaches this circle, we're in the middle of winter here and our shortest day. There are two more named circles, the Arctic and the Antarctic, that are hidden on the map - they circle the poles around which the zodiac roams upon the primi mobilis [the outermost concentric sphere conceived in medieval astronomy, carrying the spheres of the fixed stars and the planets in its daily revolution] How one learns this in the material sphere, is too difficult for the common man to grasp here. But you should pay attention to these three circles, Equinoctal, Summer and Winter. You should notice that the sun is always to be found between the summer and winter circles, and never goes further towards the south, or towards us to the north, but when it reaches one circle it turns back and moves towards the other. From this it follows that the people living under the equator always have summer and never winter, and it is a hot country, and Moors live there. When the sun is farthest from them, in high summer or deepest winter, the sun is still closer than it is to us in the height of summer. On the other hand, you may also recognize here that the proverb is true: That if it is summer here, it is winter over the sea in other countries: and again, when it is winter over here, it is summer over the sea, and this is confirmed in the outer part of Africa, which then stretches out over the winter circle...
Publication History and Census
This woodcut did not appear in the first few editions of Cosmographia, but was added in 1550 along with the many city views and illustrations which were introduced to that year's, expanded, editions of the book. It survived the overhaul of the work undertaken in 1588 by Sebastian Petri and was not replaced. This example corresponds typographically with the edition printed in 1592. Despite the age of the work and competition from Ortelius' modern atlas, Petri’s late editions of Cosmographey were successful, and separate examples of its illustrations appear on the market in varying condition. The book, sometimes bound in multiple volumes, is well represented in institutional collections. Separate leaves such as this are rarely if ever catalogued in institutional collections.


Sebastian Münster (January 20, 1488 - May 26, 1552), was a German cartographer, cosmographer, Hebrew scholar and humanist. He was born at Ingelheim near Mainz, the son of Andreas Munster. He completed his studies at the Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen in 1518, after which he was appointed to the University of Basel in 1527. As Professor of Hebrew, he edited the Hebrew Bible, accompanied by a Latin translation. In 1540 he published a Latin edition of Ptolemy's Geographia, which presented the ancient cartographer's 2nd century geographical data supplemented systematically with maps of the modern world. This was followed by what can be considered his principal work, the Cosmographia. First issued in 1544, this was the earliest German description of the modern world. It would become the go-to book for any literate layperson who wished to know about anywhere that was further than a day's journey from home. In preparation for his work on Cosmographia, Münster reached out to humanists around Europe and especially within the Holy Roman Empire, enlisting colleagues to provide him with up-to-date maps and views of their countries and cities, with the result that the book contains a disproportionate number of maps providing the first modern depictions of the areas they depict. Münster, as a religious man, was not producing a travel guide. Just as his work in ancient languages was intended to provide his students with as direct a connection as possible to scriptural revelation, his object in producing Cosmographia was to provide the reader with a description of all of creation: a further means of gaining revelation. The book, unsurprisingly, proved popular and was reissued in numerous editions and languages including Latin, French, Italian, and Czech. The last German edition was published in 1628, long after Münster's death of the plague in 1552. Cosmographia was one of the most successful and popular books of the 16th century, passing through 24 editions between 1544 and 1628. This success was due in part to its fascinating woodcuts (some by Hans Holbein the Younger, Urs Graf, Hans Rudolph Manuel Deutsch, and David Kandel). Münster's work was highly influential in reviving classical geography in 16th century Europe, and providing the intellectual foundations for the production of later compilations of cartographic work, such as Ortelius' Theatrum Orbis Terrarum Münster's output includes a small format 1536 map of Europe; the 1532 Grynaeus map of the world is also attributed to him. His non-geographical output includes Dictionarium trilingue in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and his 1537 Hebrew Gospel of Matthew. Most of Munster's work was published by his stepson, Heinrich Petri (Henricus Petrus), and his son Sebastian Henric Petri. Learn More...

Heinrich Petri (1508 - 1579) and his son Sebastian Henric Petri (1545 – 1627) were printers based in Basel, Switzerland. Heinrich was the son of the printer Adam Petri and Anna Selber. After Adam died in 1527, Anna married the humanist and geographer Sebastian Münster - one of Adam's collaborators. Sebastian contracted his stepson, Henricus Petri (Petrus), to print editions of his wildly popular Cosmographia. Later Petri, brought his son, Sebastian Henric Petri, into the family business. Their firm was known as the Officina Henricpetrina. In addition to the Cosmographia, they also published a number of other seminal works including the 1566 second edition of Nicolaus Copernicus's De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium and Georg Joachim Rheticus's Narratio. Learn More...


Munster, S., Cosmographei, (Basel: Petri, S.) 1592.    


Very good.