BRAHE, Tycho


BRAHE, Tycho Astronomiae Instauratae Mechanica

Nuremberg, Hulsius Levinus, 1602


Folio. 54 unnumbered ff. Roman letter, little Italic. Finely engraved t-p with portrait of Tycho Brahe dated 1586 within arch surrounded by arms of Danish families, 6 engravings and 25 woodcuts (mostly full-page) of astronomical instruments, buildings, maps and globes, decorated initials, head- and tailpieces, all pages with single ruled typographical border. Intermittent slight browning, small old marginal repair to few ll., minor marginal spotting. A very good copy in contemporary vellum, minor loss towards foot of spine, bookplate of Erwin Tomash to front pastedown, early casemarks on fep, contemporary inscriptions by Dom Manuel de Meneses dated 1624, one probably indicating price, on t-p.

This copy belonged to the Portuguese astronomer Dom Manuel de Meneses (c.1565-1628), whose autograph here matches Real Academia de la Historia, ms. 9/237. He attended the Jesuit College in Lisbon studying mathematics and the art of navigation with João Delgado (Rodrigues, ‘História da Companhia de Jesus’, III, 186). After leading expeditions to the Indies as navy captain, he became court cosmographer in 1624—the year of the ex-libris in this copy. His interests in astronomical instruments were determined by his professional knowledge of navigation; incidentally, in 1627 he survived a horrendous shipwreck in the Indies in which nearly 2000 people lost their lives (see ‘Le naufrage des Portugais’, 211, 215).

Lavishly illustrated second—and first trade—edition of this important work in the history of astronomical mechanics. Whilst the first edition was issued privately by the author in a limited print-run of c.100 copies, largely for presentation to would-be patrons, the second was intended for wider circulation. It was completely reset and slightly revised from the first, the woodcuts and copperplates of which were sold to the printer Levinus Hulsius after Brahe’s death. Except for the engraving of an armillary sphere on C6, which substituted a woodcut of the same subject, all the handsome illustrations, of fresh impression in this copy, were based on the original plates and blocks (Honeyman I, 490). The scion to one of Denmark’s most important aristocratic family, Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) studied at Copenhagen and Leipzig pursuing his multifarious interests in a variety of subjects including astronomy, astrology (which resulted in horoscopes for famous personalities), philosophy and physics. His theorisation of ‘geo-heliocentrism’ sought to reconcile and revise the Copernican, Ptolemaic and Aristotelian systems, positing that the Sun and Moon revolved around the earth, whilst the five known planets orbited around the Sun. Devised to assist astronomers and navigators with applied calculations, ‘Astronomiae Instauratae Mechanica’ illustrates the instruments Brahe constructed and employed for his research at the observatories of Uraniborg and its underground counterpart, Stjerneborg, which he established in the 1580s. Prefaced by a full-page illustration, each section explains the making (usually from iron or ‘orichalcus’, i.e., gilt brass) and workings of each instruments including several types of quadrants (‘minor’, ‘azimuthalis’), sextants, zodiacal and equatorial armillary spheres and a superbly decorated globe. Brahe also owned a majestic ‘mural quadrant’ entirely covered with engraved decorations. The second part features illustrations of the architecture and plans of his observatories as well as a map of Hven, the island on which they were built, explaining the topographical rationale underlying their planning. A most important, exquisitely illustrated manual of illustrious provenance.

USTC 2135265; BM STC Ger., p. 143 (1598 ed.); Brunet II, 1200; Houzeau & Lancaster 2703; Honeyman I, 490. Not in Riccardi. F.M. de Melo and M. de Meneses, Le naufrage des Portugais sur les côtes de Saint-Jean-de-Luz & d’Arcachon (1627), ed. P. Lizé and J.Y. Blot (Paris, 2000); F. Rodrigues, História da Companhia de Jesus na Assistência de Portugal (Porto, 1944), III.
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