Astrolabe (front)

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probably Flemish

Postcard of Astrolabe (front).
© National Museums Scotland

Astrolabe (front)

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 around 1600. It is probably Flemish and is unsigned.

The front of the astrolabe (pictured here) shows an instrument with an unusually broad border showing the names of the twelve winds in the outer circle; then the hours 1 to 12 twice; the degrees of the four quadrants from 0 to 90 degrees; and the four cardinal points. The tracery of the rete has some trefoil characteristics and there are 20 star-pointers. There are two latitude plates (39 and 41 degrees) (51 and 53 degrees).

The large and influential Flemish workshops developed from around 1530 in the Antwerp-Louvain region, significantly close to copper and brass supplies. Gemma Fricius worked with Gerard Mercator, and later a nephew of Gemma, Gaulterus Arsenius. Although much of the detail about the size and structure of the workshops is lacking, it is clear that other Flemish makers were involved, such as Coignet, Piquet, and Adrian Zeelst.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-100-104-215-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1928.21
Date: Around 1600
c. 1600
Material: Brass
Dimensions: 9.25" overall D
What: Astrolabe
Subject: 3. ASTRONOMY, Astrolabes (Departmental Classification)
Where: Belgium / France
Description: European astrolabe in brass with two graduated tablets, rete showing 21 stars and alidade with peep sights, unsigned, Flanders, c. 1600
  • 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. 1184 
  • Gunther, R. T., Astrolabes of the World. Qxford: 1932, pp 395-6 
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