Changing the Angle of Vision: Astrolabe Dials on Astronomical Clocks

in Medieval Encounters
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Abstract

From the middle of the fourteenth century until the Early Modern period, several monumental astronomical clocks were erected in Europe, and on many of them astrolabe dials were placed. On a group of earlier clocks, “southern astrolabes” (i.e. with stereographic projection from the North Pole) were employed, whereas later examples show a “northern astrolabe” (i.e., a stereographic projection from the South Pole), which is commonly used on portable astrolabes. The material and textual evidence as well as reasons for this change shall be examined. Moreover, the question of transmission of special variants of stereographic projection from East to West will be discussed.

Changing the Angle of Vision: Astrolabe Dials on Astronomical Clocks

in Medieval Encounters

Sections

Figures

  • View in gallery
    Sense of rotation of the celestial sphere for a terrestrial viewer (Michel, “Pourquoi les horloges tournent-elles à l’envers?,” 127).
  • View in gallery
    Rotating star-map of the nineteenth century (Modern reproduction,
  • View in gallery
    Stereographic projection from the south pole–“Northern Astrolabe” (Henri Michel, Traité de l’astrolabe (Paris: Librairie Alain Brieux, 1976) 17).
  • View in gallery
    Stereographic projection from the north pole—“Southern Astrolabe” (Michel, Traité de l’astrolabe, 16).
  • View in gallery
    Astrolabe dial of the astronomical clock in Lund Cathedral in its condition before 1916 (Wåhlin, Horologium mirabile Lundense, 45).
  • View in gallery
    Tympanum of the astrolabe dial of Doberan, 1390. Drawing by Hans Wåhlin, 1923; Wåhlin, Horologium mirabile Lundense.
  • View in gallery
    Astrolabe dial of Bourges, 1423 Jules-Louis Barreau, Description de la cathédrale, des vitraux de Bourges et des autres monuments de la ville (Châteauroux: A. Majesté, 1885).
  • View in gallery
    The astronomical clock in the northern transept of Frankfurt Cathedral. Detail of an engraving in the “Crowning Diary” of Emperor Matthias, 1612 (Carl Wolff, Der Kaiserdom in Frankfurt am Main: Eine baugeschichtliche Darstellung, Frankfurt a. M.: Jügel, 1892, 22).
  • View in gallery
    Astrolabe dial of Giovanni de’Dondi’s “Astrarium,” 1348–1364 (Granville Hugh Baillie, H. Alan Lloyd and F. A. B. Ward, The Planetarium of Giovanni de Dondi, London: The Antiquarian Horological Society, 1974, 60).
  • View in gallery
    The astronomical clock of Saint-Omer, 1555–1558 (historical postcard in possession of the author).
  • View in gallery
    Astrolabe dial of the astronomical clock of Strasbourg Cathedral, 1571–1574.

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