Russian Home Search E-mail Map

Arsenius’s Astrolabe

(World of an Object)

Astrolabe is a complex angular instrument for determining positions of stars. It appeared as far back as in Ancient Greece. Astrolabe was widely spread in countries of Arabian East by IX cent., where it was used for solving many practical tasks. For example, determining time, length of day and night, measuring angles on Earth’s surface, carrying out mathematical calculations.

In X century Eastern astrolabes got to Spain and then became known in other countries of Western Europe. With the lapse of time astrolabes were made in European workshops too. First these instruments were simple copies of Arabian ones and only in XVI century astrolabes were made by own calculations and projects. Big attention was given to artistic aspect, that’s why astrolabes became an object of fashion and collecting at royal courts. One of the best instrumental masters of that time was Gualterus Arsenius (1530 – 1580). He fulfilled orders of Spanish king Philip II and other noble persons who took astrolabes mainly as astrological instruments.

Nowadays there are 21 known Arsenius’s astrolabes in the world. One of them, made in 1568, belonged to Austrian general Albrecht Wallenstein, who lived at time of Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). In XIX c. it belonged to Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna and was presented to Public library (now known as Russian National library), and from there it came to the museum of M.V. Lomonosov.

Astrolabe’s diameter is 33,5 cm.

It consists of the following parts:

  • Basis – disk with board and hanging ring for precise orientating of the instrument to horizon.
  • Three tympans – flat disks with engraved projections of sky coordinates for latitudes of European cities 510, 51015’, 520.
  • Grating - projection of northern hemisphere’s celestial sphere with notion of positions of 45 brightest stars with zodiacal circle.
  • Alidade – aiming rule.
  • Axis connecting all parts.

On the top of astrolabe two figures are depicted – Faunus and Fauna, who were connected to gift of prediction.

On the foundation of the throne there is author’s signature: "G.A. neros Gemm50086 Fris50111 Louan50111 Fecit anno 1668.".

Arsenius’s astrolabe, made with surprising precision and artistic mastery is the only one in our country.

Exhibition took place in May – August 2001.