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Rare Book: Wunderzeichenbuch, or ‘Book Of Miracles’, 1552

“In AD 1119, fiery arrows or spears appeared in the sky, everywhere in the whole sky. And stars fell from the sky and when water was poured over them, they made a sound or screamed.”

It doesn’t exactly have the militaristic crispness of a Patrick Moore, but in these words (or, at least, their High German equivalent) we can see the modern science of astronomy emerging from under a shroud of superstition and folklore. The words are taken from an unparalleled Wunderzeichenbuch – or “book of miracles” – recently sold by James Faber, of Bond Street fine-art dealers Day & Faber. The miracles in question, all 167 of them, are hand-painted in gouache and watercolor and arranged in chronological order, from Old Testament scenes (the Flood, the parting of the Red Sea) to the Last Judgement. The main body of the work, however, is given over to events from recorded history, apocalyptic scenes such as a rain of meat in Liguria or a plague of vipers in Hungary; it’s a Renaissance equivalent of cranks’ newsletter The Fortean Times, albeit with a distinct focus on the astronomical. Some 60 or so of the folios depict cosmic events, particularly comets, painted with inventive élan and highlighted with gold leaf.

plate1:Planisphere (mechanism) of Ptolemy, of the heavenly orbits following the hypothesis of Ptolemy laid out in a planar view plate3:Scenography of the planetary orbits encompassing the Earth plate4:Planisphere of Copernicus, or the system of the entire created universe according to the hypothesis of Copernicus exhibited in a planar view plate5:Scenography of the Copernican world system plate6:Planisphere of Brahe, or the structure of the universe following the hypothesis of Tycho Brahe drawn in a planar view. plate10:The sizes of the celestial bodies [in some copies the terrestrial sphere has the continents drawn in by hand] plate15:The (astrological) aspects, such as opposition, conjunction, etc., among the planets plate19:Selenographic diagram depicting the varying phases and appearances of the Moon by (means of) shading plate21:Representation (of the motions) of Venus and Mercury plate26:Northern stellar hemisphere, with the terrestrial hemisphere lying underneath

Harmonia Macrocosmica

by Andreas Cellarius

The publication of Andreas Cellarius’ Harmonia Macrocosmica in 1660 forms the final chapter of an ambitious cartographic project initiated 25 years earlier by the Amsterdam publisher Johannes Janssonius (1588-1664), namely, the publication of an ATLAS in several volumes which described not only the surface of the Earth but the whole of Creation, including the cosmos and its history.