Astrolabe (front)

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made in Persia

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 in Persia around 1800. It is unsigned.

The front of the astrolabe (pictured here) has a rete (or star map) for 18 named stars. This, and the kursi (the support for carrying the suspension ring) are ornately decorated with foliage, as are most Persian astrolabes of this date. Under the rete are four plates for seven different latitudes and a tablet of horizons.

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: 000-100-104-225-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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