Perfect in Every Sense

Scientific Iconography on an Equation Clock by Jost Bürgi and the Self-Understanding of the Astronomers at the Kassel Court in the Late 1580s

in Nuncius
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At the center of this article is an iconographic analysis of the eight silver reliefs on the sides of a table clock made in 1591 by Jost Bürgi, the court clockmaker of Landgrave Wilhelm IV of Hessen-Kassel. The reliefs present an astronomical ancestral picture gallery, running from the Patriarchs of the Old Testament to Copernicus. The author argues that the “storyboard” for this sequence of images must have been conceived down to its smallest details by the Kassel court astronomer Christoph Rothmann; indeed, many of the scenes shown, along with many particular details depicted within them, are literally described in Rothmann’s never-published manuscript Observationes stellarum fixarum of 1589. The final section of the essay compares these reliefs to the images created for Tycho Brahe at his Uraniborg and Stjerneborg observatories. The author concludes that the sequence of the reliefs in Kassel, culminating in the representation of Copernicus and his world view, is a reflection of the acrimonious debate extending over many years between the heliocentrist Rothmann and the geo-heliocentrist Brahe regarding the veracity of the heliocentric world view.

Perfect in Every Sense

Scientific Iconography on an Equation Clock by Jost Bürgi and the Self-Understanding of the Astronomers at the Kassel Court in the Late 1580s

in Nuncius

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References

  • 2

    On this see Erik DammGrundlagen astronomischer Uhren (Norderstedt: Books on Demand2009) and Graham White “Within the lid of Bürgi’s 1590 table clock” Horological Science NewsletterNAWCC Chapter 161 9.2011 pp. 24–36 especially note 6.

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  • 5

    Petrus RamusProoemium Mathematicum (Paris: Wechel1567) and also Petrus Ramus Scholarum Mathematicarum libri unus et triginta (Basel: Episcopius et Nicolai 1569) p. 66f.

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  • 10

    Christoph Rothmann“Observationes Stellarum fixarum,” in Christoph Rothmanns Handbuch der Astronomie von 1589edited by Jürgen Hamel Miguel A. Granada and Ludolf von Mackensen (Frankfurt am Main: Harri Deutsch 2003) Acta Historica Astronomiae Vol. 19.

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  • 12

    Rudolf Hallo“Von alten Uhren im Hessischen Landesmuseum und von der Uhrmacherkunst in Kassel,” in Die Uhrmacherkunst. Verbandszeitung der deutschen Uhrmacher1930 55.32 pp. 657–666 here p. 661: “Vertzeichnus wasz ich Hans Jacob Emck Goldtschmidt Meinem gn. Fursten undt Herren Ldgff Wilhelm zue Hessen an das newe Uhrwerk welches M. Jost der Uhrmacher mir daran bevohlenn zu machenn verfertigtt und daran verdient wie volgtt.// Hierauff von M. Jostenn an Silber endtpfangen 16 lodt 1 q [Quentlein]. Daraus die Acht stuck [Reliefs] getriebenn habe gewogenn 6 lodt 25 g. Rest ich noch zue liffern 9 lodt 25 g. Jedes lodt pro 16. alb. Summe thutt 4 Thal. 26 alb. Jdem noch 4 thaler von M. Josten Endtpfangen; thutt zusammen 8 Thlr. 26. alb. Solche abgezoghen Rest M. g. f. undt Herr noch zu bezahlen 16 thlr. 9. alb.”

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  • 22

    Ludolf von Mackensen“Der silberne Copernicus aus Kassel. Eine astronomische Tafeluhr von Jost Bürgi und Hans Jacob Emck von 1591 als frühestes künstlerisches Bekenntnis zum neuen Weltsystem,” Pantheon. Internationale Jahreszeitschrift für Kunst1978 36:132–138 p. 133.

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  • 31

    Ibid. p. 30.

  • 32

    After the Massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572during which Ramus was murdered alongside many other Huguenots Risner claimed to have found the burning mirror in the hands of the murderers and managed to purchase it. The mirror once owned by Risner is now displayed in the Astronomisch-Physikalisches Kabinett in Kassel. See the story described by Ramus in a letter to Wilhelm IV in the Murhardsche Landesbibliothek Kassel Handschriftenabteilung 2° Ms. H. litt. 4 p. 1r. See also Sven Dupré Michael Korey “Inside the Kunstkammer: The circulation of optical knowledge and instruments at the Dresden Court” Studies in History and Philosophy of SciencePart A 2009 40:405–420.

  • 34

    Johannes Kepler“Briefe,” in Johannes Kepler. Gesammelte WerkeVol. 13 edited by Max Caspar (München: Beck 1945) p. 124.

  • 43

    Victor E. ThorenThe Lord of Uraniborg. A Biography of Tycho Brahe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1990) p. 227.

  • 56

    Mario BiagioliGalileo Courtier: The Practice of Science in the Culture of Absolutism (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press1993) p. 133.

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  • 57

    Staatsarchiv Marburg 4a 31–12 p. 23.

  • 60

    See for example Ludolf von Mackensen“Der Wandel des Weltbilds in der Zeit des Antonius Eisenhoit und des Jost Bürgi,” Wunderwerk (cit. note 16) p. 34.

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Figures

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    Figure 1

    Equation clock by Jost Bürgi (1591), Astronomisch-Physikalisches Kabinett, Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel, Inv.–Nr. U 24

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    Figure 2

    Equation clock, detail: inside of the lid

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    Figure 3

    Equation clock, detail: first side (Patriarchs and Thales)

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    Figure 4

    Equation clock, detail: second side (Euclid and Archimedes)

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    Figure 5

    Equation clock, detail: third side (Hipparchus and Ptolemy)

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    Figure 6

    Equation clock, detail: fourth side (Alfonso and Copernicus)

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    Figure 7

    Equation clock, detail: dog at the feet of Alfonso X

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    Figure 8

    Tycho Brahe in his mural quadrant with a dog near his feet (from T. Brahe, Astronomiae instauratae mechanica, 1598)

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    Figure 9

    Illustration of Tycho’s equatorial armillary sphere with paintings of Ptolemy and al-Battani (from T. Brahe, Astronomiae instauratae mechanica, 1598)

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