The only celestial atlas published in the Dutch Golden age: featuring Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Tycho Brahe

Cellarius, Andreas. Harmonia macrocosmica seu atlas universalis et novus.

Amsterdam, J. Jansson, 1661.

Folio (340 x 520 mm). (14), 125, (1 blank), 218, (2) pp. With hand-coloured engraved title-page and 30 double-page hand-coloured engraved plates, each celestial charts or model Universes. Also with 4 engraved and 2 woodcut in-text diagrams, illustrated woodcut initials, headpieces, and tailpieces. Contemporary full vellum ruled in floriated gilt, decorated with gilt arabesques, stamped in gilt on spine, all edges gilt.


First edition, second issue of the only celestial atlas published in the Golden Age of Dutch cartography, and perhaps the most important 17th century celestial atlas to be produced.

Unlike later celestial atlases, the Cellarius charts demonstrated various ancient and contemporary cosmological ideas, rather than merely the names and positions of the stars. The purpose of the book was to assess contemporary attempts to discover the underlying harmony of the universe. As such, the charts represent the highest levels of 17th century astronomical thought, with lavishly engraved and hand-coloured plates showing the three great theories on the nature of the universe: the Ptolemaic, the Copernican, and the Brahean. This was an era when the debate between these models was at the forefront of cosmological science, on par with the debate between Einsteinian Relativism and Quantum Theory today.

Featured in four plates, the Ptolemaic model was the oldest, formulated by the Alexandrian astronomer and mathematician Ptolemy about 150 CE. Ptolemy's approach placed the Earth at the centre of the cosmos, but unlike other ancient models (for instance, Aristotle's) could explain the odd movement of the planets as observed from Earth: unlike the moon and Sun, most planets occasionally appear to travel in spirals in the night sky rather than tracking sedately East to West. This movement in rooted in the word planet itself, from the Greek "planetes" meaning "wandering one". Ptolemy was able finally to mathematically explain the wandering of the planets, though by way of a complex geometry of epicycles.

By the 16th century, this model was beginning to wear thin. In 1543 Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543) made detailed observations which led him to publish "De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium" ("On the Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs"), which solved the worst geometrical complications of Ptolemy by placing the Sun at the centre of the universe and making orbits by and large circular. However, until Galileo, the Copernician theory lacked an underlying system of physics to explain this new movement. Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) attempted to forge a middle path between the classic Ptolemaic model and the neater mathematics of the Copernican, allowing that most planets would orbit the sun, but that the Sun orbited the Earth, which remained at the centre of the cosmos. As early as the 12th century it was not uncommon to posit that one or two planets might orbit the Sun, which in turn orbited the Earth. However, in the mediaeval period, debate was held off due largely to the lack of technological ability to observe the sky with precision. It was simply impossible to prove whether the Sun or the Earth stood at the centre, and thus similar (though always geocentric) models existed side by side without too much controversy. When Cellarius placed these three models together it was in a world where this had changed: one of these models would emerge to portray what was, to contemporaries, an inimitable truth both scientific and deeply religious. The only question was who would win the day.

In this volume, Cellarius has delved into this debate in striking baroque style, bringing to bear all the power of the Dutch Golden Age of cartography on the heavens rather than the Earth. The four engravings of the Ptolemaic system depict the central Earth encased, as was traditional, in the four elements, including a large ring of fire. Above this are the orbits of the seven planets: the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, bordered by the ecliptic, in which the fixed stars spin around the unmoving Earth once a day. Another Ptolemaic plate includes two smaller models as part of the marginal decoration, one of the Ptolemaic hypothesis, "in qua Terra totius Universi centrum", and one of the Brahean hypothesis, "in qua centrum Lunae et Firmamenti est Terra. reliquorum quinq. Planetarum Sol". In this way, Cellarius placed each model in direct dialogue with each other, not only in text but in image. Following the section on Ptolemy, Copernicus bursts onto the scene with a model dominated by a central sun, its rays stretching out to every corner of the universe. Around it are Mercury, Venus, and then Earth itself, around which orbits the Moon; next comes Mars and then Jupiter, now with four moons to itself, and finally Saturn. The four moons of Jupiter had only been discovered fifty years previously, near-simultaneously by Galileo and by Simon Marius; their presence remained innovative in Cellarius's time. The second illustrates in more detail the orbit of the Earth around the Sun and the rotation of Earth which must create night and day in the Copernican system. Finally, Brahe's compromise is introduced, mapped so beautifully that its inelegant fusion of theories appears somehow elegant in its own right. The Earth at the centre is orbited by the Moon, then by the Sun. Around the Sun, however, are Mercury and Venus in tight orbit, and then, more distantly, are Mars, Jupiter - again with its modern four moons - and Saturn.

Thus, in one volume, Cellarius has encapsulated the increasingly accurate celestial cartography, the increasingly uncertain laws of physics, and the endlessly fascinating 17th century multiverse in a moment on the cusp of the most momentous decision in the history of science. Strangely, Cellarius himself remains a somewhat mysterious figure, with little known other than that he was the rector of the Latin school of Hoorn and a gifted mathematician. In fact, it appears that "[t]he most elaborate and famous celestial atlas of the 17th century was issued by an author unknown to the history of astronomy" (Whitfield). This 1661 edition is a variant of the first edition of 1660, identical except for the change of date on the title.

Touch of exterior wear, a few plates with tape reinforcement where they have begun to separate from guards. Stunningly ornate, detailed, and well preserved.

Koeman IV, Cel 2. Snyder, Oude Hemelkaarten p. 115f. Whitfield p. 101.