Astrolabe (back)

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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 around 1600. It is probably Flemish and is unsigned.

The back of the astrolabe (pictured here) shows from the outside, a degree scale; a scale of degrees of the Zodiac (0-30 degrees for each sign), and then Latin names; two scales comprising a Calender scale. In the lower half is the shadow square, and in the upper part a scale of unequal hours. There is also a rotatable bar with pinhole sighting-vanes (the alidade) held in place in the centre of the instrument.

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: 000-190-002-206-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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