Astrolabe Catalogue

astrolabe, inventory number 49687 from Syria (?), 1480/1 (A. H. 885)
Date1480/1 (A. H. 885)
PlaceSyria (?)
Inventory no.49687
AcquisitionPurchased at Sotheby's, London, in 1962

Manuscript descriptions of the spherical astrolabe exist, in Arabic, Latin, and even Catalan; and other medieval records imply that they did exist among the possessions of mathematicians. But in modern times no example was known until 1962, when an object offered for sale through Sotheby's was identified by the curator of the Museum of the History of Science, Francis Maddison, as a spherical astrolabe. It remains the only complete spherical astrolabe known to be extant.

In spite of its being signed and dated, little can be said of its origins. Unusually for an Arab the maker signs with a single name, Mūsa (the Arabic equivalent of Moses, and quite a common name). He is known only from this one instrument. The date of A.H. 885 also tells us little. It is over two centuries after the classic treatises on the instrument were written, and rather late in the period to which the style of workmanship belongs.

The general style, and in particular the use of Kufic lettering and damascened lettering and decoration, place it in the Syro-Egyptian region, where the centres of craftsmanship were Cairo and Damascus. The silver damascening clearly signals it as a skilfully made and very costly object.

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The rete contains 20 stars. The zodiac on the rete is labelled: الحمل , الثور , الجوزا , السرطان , الاسد , السنبله , الميزان , العقرب , القوس , الجدي , الدلو , الحوت . More information


There is one plate . More information


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