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400 years in Oxford

Although the origins of this armillary sphere are obscure, its subsequent history is well-documented. The heraldic devices engraved on the base show that, although made on the Continent, it had arrived in England by the 1590s and was owned by Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, known as the 'Wizard Earl'.

The sphere then came into the hands of Sir Josias Bodley, the younger brother of Sir Thomas Bodley, who founded Oxford's Bodleian Library. In 1601, Sir Josias presented the sphere to the Bodleian but it was kept at Sir Thomas's London house until his death in 1613. It has been in Oxford ever since, firstly on display in the Bodleian, then lent to the University Observatory in the late 19th century, and finally coming to this museum in the 1950s.

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Inventory No. 70229, "Armillary Sphere, Italian?, c. 1580" [1951-55]