Astrolabe (back)

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made in Persia

Postcard of Astrolabe (back).
© National Museums Scotland

Astrolabe (back)

An astrolabe is an instrument used by early astronomers to measure the altitude of stars and planets and also as a navigational aid. This brass example was made in Persia around 1800. It is unsigned.

The back of the astrolabe (pictured here) shows amongst other information, a sine graph, graphs of the sun's meridian altitude throughout the year for Quarwin, Nishapur and Samarkand; a shadow-square; and an astrological table concerning phases of the Moon and the planets. There is also a rotatable bar with open sights in the vanes (the alidade), held in place in the centre of the instrument.

Just as the astrolabe became obsolete in the Christian West, in the more conservative later Islamic culture it became popular, both in Persia and Mughal India, where characteristic styles developed. Those from Persia were highly ornate and somewhat mannered. The entire surface was covered with patterns or inscriptions.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-190-002-209-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1962.14
Date: Around 1800
c. 1800
Material: Brass
Dimensions: 159.00 mm D
What: Astrolabe
Subject: 3. ASTRONOMY, Astrolabes (Departmental Classification)
Who: Sir John Findlay Collection
Where: Middle East, Iran
Description: Brass astrolabe, with a rete for 18 named stars, four plates for latitudes, and a tablet of horizons, Persian, c. 1800
  • For the use of the astrolabe, see Turner, A. J., The Time Museum: Time Measuring Instruments Part 1 Astrolabes. Rockford, Illinois: 1985, pp 1-9, 23-6 North, J. D. 'The Astrolabe' in Scientific American 230 (1974) pp 96-106 National Maritime Museum. The P 
  • Gibbs, Sharon L et al., A Computerised Checklist of Astrolabes. New Haven, Connecticut: 1973, no. 1183 
  • Morrison-Low, A. D. 'Sold at Sotheby's: Sir John Findlay's cabinet and the Scottish antiquarian tradition' in Journal of the History of Colections 7 (1995), p 206 
  • The Sir John Findlay Collection; an important collection of scientific instruments (2 parts) / Sotheby & Co., London, 1961-1962 
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