Astrolabe (electrotype), owned by Philip II of Spain

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Postcard of Astrolabe (electrotype), owned by Philip II of Spain.
© National Museums Scotland

Astrolabe (electrotype), owned by Philip II of Spain

An astrolabe is an instrument used by early astronomers to measure the altitude of stars and planets and also as a navigational aid. This electrotype is of an astrolabe made at Louvain in Belgium by Walter Arsenius and formerly owned by Spain's Philip II.

The back of the astrolabe is engraved around the edge with a degree scale, and within this is Gemma Frisins' universal projection. The published description of this appeared in 1556 after Gemma's death: in it he attempted with this design to create an instrument which not only contained the fixed-latitude and universal forms of the astrolabe, but also was able to undertake a range of tasks in surveying and navigation.

The original astrolabe is in the Archaeological Museum of Madrid. It came to London for an exhibition in 1876, when three electrotype copies were made at £32.00 each. The other two are in the British Museum and the Science Museum in London.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-190-004-182-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1931.270
Date: 1876
Original: 1566; (Electrotype: 1876)
What: Astrolabe / electrotype
Subject: 3. ASTRONOMY, Astrolabes (Departmental Classification)
Who: Philip II of Spain (Former owner of astrolabe)
Where: England, London
Description: Electrotype of a bronze astrolabe, the original of which belonged to Philip II of Spain: this copy was made in London, 1876
  • For the electrotyping, see Talbot, Stuart, 'Astrolabes and Electrotypes: an Enquiry' in Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society No 46 (1995), pp 18-22 For the use of the astrolabe, see Turner, A. J., The Time Museum: Time Measuring Instruments Part 
  • For the original, see Gunther, R. T., Astrolabes of the World. London: 1932, pp 388-9, no 231 For a description of Gemma Frisins' universal projection, see Turner, A. J., The Time Museum: Volume 1 Time Measuring Instruments Part 1, Astrolabes, Astrolabe R 
  • For the problem of its ownership by Philip II, see Scientific Instruments of the Sixteenth Century: the Spanish Court and the Louvain School. Madrid: 1997, pp 91-7 
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