Johann Stöffler and the Astrolabe

The first book of original astronomy published in the 16th century dealt with an instrument, the astrolabe, as something to be made and used. This was Elucidatio fabricae ususque astrolabii, by Johann Stöffler, professor of mathematics at the University of Tübingen, published 1513, earlier than any printed edition of the Almagest. Stöffler was a globe- and instrument-maker who published on cosmography and wrote a commentary on Ptolemy’s Geographia.

Stöffler’s book went through many editions and influenced both the popularity of the astrolabe and the format for treating instruments generally in printed treatises. Instruments, including astrolabes, were produced in paper and brass – both requiring the skill of the engraver – and books might contain paper instruments within their pages.

Featured objects

2. Johann Stöffler, Elucidatio fabricae ususque astrolabii (Oppenheim, 1513)
3. Paper astrolabe by Peter Jordan, Mainz, 1535, included in his edition of Stöffler’s Elucidatio
4. Armillary sphere by Carlo Plato, 1588, Rome
9. Astrolabe by Georg Hartmann, Nuremberg, 1527
10. Astrolabe by Johann Wagner, Nuremberg, 1538
11. Astrolabe by Georg Hartmann (wood and paper), Nuremberg, 1542
12. Diptych dial by Georg Hartmann, Nuremberg, 1562
13. Lower leaf of a diptych dial with city view of Nuremberg, by Johann Gebhart, Nuremberg, c.1550
26. Diptych dial by Christian Heiden, Nuremberg, 1569


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