Item #5020 La sfera del mondo [and: Delle Stelle Fisse]. Alessandro ASTRONOMY. Piccolomini.
La sfera del mondo [and: Delle Stelle Fisse]
La sfera del mondo [and: Delle Stelle Fisse]
La sfera del mondo [and: Delle Stelle Fisse]
La sfera del mondo [and: Delle Stelle Fisse]
La sfera del mondo [and: Delle Stelle Fisse]
La sfera del mondo [and: Delle Stelle Fisse]
La sfera del mondo [and: Delle Stelle Fisse]
La sfera del mondo [and: Delle Stelle Fisse]
La sfera del mondo [and: Delle Stelle Fisse]
La sfera del mondo [and: Delle Stelle Fisse]
La sfera del mondo [and: Delle Stelle Fisse]
La sfera del mondo [and: Delle Stelle Fisse]

La sfera del mondo [and: Delle Stelle Fisse]

Venice: Nicolò Bascarini, 1548.

Price: $8,500.00

Quarto: 21 x 16 cm. 2 parts in 1 vol. [4], [1-4], 5-52; [53-56], 57-176, [4] lvs. Collation: +4, a-n4; A-G4, H2, I-Z4, AA-KK4. Complete.

SECOND EDITIONS OF BOTH WORKS (1st eds. 1540).

A fine, attractive, and unsophisticated copy, bound in contemporary limp vellum (binding a bit rumpled, with small defects to the spine and nibbling to the upper edge -charming evidence of a hungry mouse.) The text is in excellent condition, very fresh, with trivial blemishes as follows: Leaf i1 with a clean tear in the text (no loss), lvs. k1-2 with contemporary marginal notes; small stain in lower margin of gathering O, a damp-stain in the lower margin of gathering P; leaf P2 with a small paper flaw affecting a few letters, trivial light foxing to the upper margin of a few gatherings, very light stain in lower margin of final 2 lvs. The book is illustrated with woodcut diagrams, illustrations of instruments, and 47 full-page woodcut star maps.

Alessandro Piccolomini was professor of philosophy at the University of Padua from 1539 to 1543. In 1541, in a famous letter written to Pietro Aretino, he expounded his proposition that scientific works should be written in the vernacular.

In 1540, Piccolomini popularized astronomy through the publication of two influential works, both written in Italian, “La Sfera del Mondo” (The Sphere of the World) and “Delle stelle fisse”(On the Fixed Stars).

The latter work holds the distinction of being the first published star atlas. The beautiful, minimalist star charts depict 47 of the 48 Ptolemaic constellations without the fanciful imagery of the mythological zodiac figures. Piccolomini devised a novel system of varying the size and shape of the woodcut stars to show their magnitude, and of identifying the brightest stars by marking them with letters of the Latin alphabet. These innovations would be used by succeeding generations of atlas-makers, notably, in 1603, Johann Bayer (who would substitute Greek letters for Latin). The star maps include words indicating the position of the celestial pole (ex. “parte verso il polo”) and the direction in which the constellations turns with the rotation of the celestial sphere.

“Piccolomini’s constellations were drawn face-on as they appear in the sky, rather than the mirror-image globe view of Dürer’s [two single-sheet celestial hemispheres]. This made the atlas more readily usable by observers… In all, [Piccolomini’s] charts plotted 621 stars. In the handbook he provided descriptions of each constellation and a mini-catalogue of the 455 brightest stars.”(Ian Ridpath)

Piccolomini’s two works, especially the star atlas, with its clear depictions of the constellations and the easily-accessible vernacular text, had an enormous impact, serving to popularize astronomical knowledge that had previously been understood primarily by the highly-educated and Latin-literate.

“It is no exaggeration to suggest that Piccolomini's ‘Delle stelle fisse’ qualifies to be called the first true star atlas. The treatise was certainly informative, with its detailed accounts of the stars and constellations. More to the point, though, are Piccolomini's systematic approach, his consistency in presenting the different elements of his text (a catalogue, the illustrations, the tables and the written descriptions) and, not least, the accuracy of his representation of the major constellations as these are seen from the Earth… In a sense, he anticipated the star atlases used today, which like Piccolomini emphasize stellar patterns (rather than surrounding images) realistically and use different symbols and letters to categorize stars according to their magnitudes.

“Piccolomini organized the star catalogue in ‘Delle stelle fisse according to the forty-eight Ptolemaic constellations (though in the finished work the constellation Equuleus is missing), discussing each constellation in turn. Below a heading giving the name for the constellation, he explained why the Greeks chose that particular name and the origins of its mythical associations. Then followed a list of the bright stars in the constellation, each with a lower-case Roman letter keyed to the star in the illustration, starting with the brightest, which is typically given the letter 'a'. This is the first time that such a systematic categorization is found in book devoted to the constellations. The list includes a brief description of the star's location in the constellation (for example, ‘quasi nel mezo de la coda’ [almost in the middle of the tail] in the case of star 'd' in Ursa Minor, the Little Bear), and an indication of its size (grandezza), that is, its magnitude on a scale of 1 to 4. Piccolomini numbered his woodcut illustrations in Roman numerals, from I to XLVIII, but there actually were only forty-seven constellations, since the one depicting Equuleus was missing.

“The figures contain a number of features not found in earlier constellation maps. Each plate features an accurate map of a constellation pattern with the stars correctly plotted as seen from Earth, but without the traditional mythical figure. The stars are identified by the same letters given in the catalogue. Four different symbols are deployed to indicate the magnitudes of the stars, with the largest, open, star symbol representing the brightest. Along the bottom of each diagram a linear degree scale allows the reader to determine the size of the whole constellation. Although Piccolomini did not supply a coordinate system, he gave the orientation in writing, with the direction in which the celestial pole lies noted by the words ‘parte verso il polo’ (the part facing the pole). The constellation's direction of rotation as it moves across the sky is expressed as its leading edge – ‘verso dove’ or whither - and its trailing edge – ‘donde ‘or whence.”(Kanas, Alessandro Piccolomini and the First Printed Star Atlas (1540), Imago Mundi , 2006, Vol. 58, No. 1 (2006), pp. 70-76)

“Alessandro Piccolomini, a member of an old, noble family of Siena, was born on 13 June 1508. In his youth, he studied literature (possibly at the University of Siena), translated classical works into Italian verse, and wrote several comedies, some one hundred sonnets and other rhymes. In 1538, he left Siena to study at the University of Padua, where he later became professor of philosophy, and in 1 545 he moved to Rome. During his stays in Padua and Rome, he produced commentaries on the theories of ancient and medieval philosophers (including Aristotle and Ptolemy) and published a scientific treatise on the dimensions of the sea and the land. He also performed the duties of secretary for a cardinal and an archbishop and was ordained a priest in 1555. In 1574, Pope Gregory XIII appointed him coadjutor to the Archbishop of Siena and titular Archbishop of Patras (Greece), and he obtained a doctorate in theology. He participated in calendrical reform and wrote on this topic until his death on 12 March 1578.”(ibid).

Norman 1696 (1559 edition); Riccardi I.270.10; Warner, Sky Explored, p. 200; R. Suter, “The Scientific Work of Alessandro Piccolomini,” Isis 60 (1969) 210-22; Owen Gingerich, “Piccolomini's star atlas,” Sky and Telescope 62 (1981). 532-4.