The Museum has a fine oil painting
in its collections of an imagined scene in the life of the sixteenth-century
Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601). It was painted in 1856
by Edward Ender and shows Tycho demonstrating a celestial globe
to the Emperor Rudolph II in Prague. Unfortunately it has not
been on display because of its poor condition - obvious areas
of paint loss, discolouring of the varnish and damage to the canvas.
However, with the assistance of a grant from the South Eastern Museums Service, the painting has now been sent for restoration, and its return will be the occasion for a modest special exhibition.
Other images of Tycho will support the newly-restored painting. His noble status and royal patronage, together with his heroic successes in founding a magnificent observatory and carrying through an unprecedented programme of observations, combined to make Tycho an object of both respect and emulation for astronomers from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Depictions of him are found in celestial charts, as frontispieces, and in allegorical scenes.
Many contemporary portraits and engravings in which Tycho is pictured survive. One in the Museum's collection actually forms part of an instrument: a celestial globe of 1603 by Willem Blaeu, one-time assistant to Tycho at Uraniborg, the castle on the island of Hven in the Danish Sound which Tycho constructed as his home and observatory.
Tycho is also included as one of the eighty-nine portraits of notables which make up the fresco that runs around the Upper Reading Room of the Bodleian Library, and which was painted in about 1616 but only rediscovered in the 1940s.
Further images can be found in material from later centuries. The eighteenth-century instrument maker George Adams, for example, adopted 'Tycho Brahe's Head' as his shop sign and, consequently, as his address, so Tycho is found portrayed on much of his trade literature.
Tycho himself, perhaps more than any other mathematician of his time, fashioned his own image, through the account of his observatory published in the Astronomiae instauratae mechanica of 1598 and 1602, through other publications printed on his own presses, and through his instruments. The great mural quadrant in Stjerneborg (a separate observatory on Hven) not only framed a life-sized fresco of Tycho but was also named the 'Quadrans Tichonicus' by Tycho after himself.
In turn, other astronomers fashioned themselves in Tycho's image. Two of them, Johannes Hevelius and John Flamsteed, might even be described as 'Tycho wannabees'. Their portraits will be included in the exhibition as examples of images associated with 'The Noble Dane' - the epithet used by Flamsteed for Tycho.
The exhibition will open in the Museum on the 21st January 1997 and will run until the 26th March.