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Astronomical Compendium
circa 1600; Italian
Gilt brass; 95 mm in diameter

The outside of the lid takes the form of a nocturnal, hinged at the first point of Libra. The zodiac scale, engraved on the limb, is engraved with the symbols of the zodiacal signs and each sign is divided to ten degrees, subdivided to two by alternate shading, numbered by 10 from 10 to 30. The rotating volvelle is pierced to show the age and phase of the moon, and is engraved with lunar hour lines from 1 to 12 twice on the outer ring, and with solar hour lines from 3 to 12 to 9 in an inner ring. These hours can be read if a gnomon is put in the central slot. The centre of the volvelle is engraved with an aspectarium. The main arm of the volvelle is decorated with a foliate motive, and there are small indexes corresponding to each lunar hour. The cursor has a decorated and folding extension, with an eight-petal rose engraved on both knobs where the folding pieces are fixed.

The inside of the lid is blank.

The inside of the box contains a compass with a blue and gold painted paper rose showing 32 points, the eight cardinal points painted with the initials of the main winds in Italian, 'T{RAMONTANA}', 'G{RECO}', '[cross]', 'S{CIROCCO}', 'O{STRO}', 'L{IBECCIO}', 'P{ONENTE}', 'B{OREA}'. On top of the compass, inside a raised rim, is hinged a universal equinoctial dial, but probably missing the support and latitude scale. The dial ring is engraved with common hours from 1 to 12 twice. Surrounding the raised rim is another rotating ring, carrying two folding sights and three folding indexes. One fourth index reads on the scale of degrees engraved on the limb of the compass box, in four quadrants of 90? with 90? at the top and bottom, divided to 10? with further divisions to 2? by alternate shading, and numbered by 10?.

The outside of the compass box is engraved with on the top half with a scrolled ring, enclosing three clear and three shaded vertical bands that can be associated with the house of Aragon. On the bottom half is engraved a double shadow square, in the manner of an astrolabe back, on the bottom half. The shadow square is engraved with alternate shading by one, numbered from three to 12 by three, and inscribed '[star] VMBRA [star] [star] VERSA [star]' and '[star] VMBRA [star] [star] RECTA [star]'. The numbers 6 and 9 are engraved upside down. On a counterchanged alidade are fixed two folding pin sights.

A small catch, part of which is missing, was used to keep the lid closed. There is also a small suspension ring.

The instrument was purchased in 1855 and was formerly in the Bernal Collection. It is described in F. A. B. Ward, A Catalogue of European Scientific Instruments in the Department of Medieval and Later Antiquities of the British Museum (London, 1981), p.75, no. 211.

Ilaria Meliconi

British Museum, London
Registration no. MLA 1855, 12-1.225

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