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Astrolabe Loans

Spring, 1999

THE Museum has recently lent two of its most important Islamic astrolabes to a special exhibition at the British Museum in London. ‘Heavenly Houses’ explores the use of zodiacal signs and lunar mansions on astrolabes and other objects.
The exhibition will bring together for the first time two magnificent astrolabes by the thirteenth-century Syro-Egyptian maker ‘Abd al-Karim al-Misri: one from the collections of the British Museum itself, the other from Oxford. The back of the Oxford astrolabe is lavishly engraved with pictorial representations of the twelve signs of the zodiac together with the twenty-eight lunar mansions.

The other instrument on loan from Oxford is the celebrated astrolabe by Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, made in Isfahan in 1221/2. This astrolabe is most famous for being the oldest surviving geared machine in a complete state, by virtue of its mechanical lunar calendar built into the reverse side. However, on this occasion it has been chosen in the main for the fine representations of the signs of the zodiac, between figures of warriors, in damascene work on the rim.

The exhibition will be in the John Addis Islamic Gallery of the British Museum from the 19th April to the 3rd October.