Uranometria,; omnium asterismorum continens schemata, novo methodo delineata, aeris laminis expressa.

"The Standard For All Later Star Atlases"
"Sheer Beauty of the Plates"

BAYER, Johannes. Uranometria, omnium asterismorum continens schemata, novo methodo delineata, aeris laminis expressa. Augustae Vindelicorum [Augsburg]: Excudit Christophorus Mangus, 1603.

First edition, complete, of the first accurate star atlas. Folio (13 1/2 x 9; 344 x 227 mm). (2), a-(c)2, A-Ccc2, including engraved titlepage and fifty-one double-page copperplate engraved star maps by Alexander Mair (c. 1562-1617). Preliminary blank leaf bears late 18th century manuscript notes; its upper third, alas, lost. The main work preceded by three laudatory poems about the author, one in Greek, two in Latin.

Contemporary full vellum over pasteboard, with manuscript title to spine. Vellum stained, as expected, yet internally bright and clean, with a handful of small closed tears at edges neatly and near invisibly repaired. An excellent copy. Housed in a quarter morocco clamshell box.

In 2008, the Richard Green copy, in a contemporary stained vellum binding (as here) but with margin repairs to four plates, sold at Christie's-NY for $60,000.

"Johann Bayer (1572-1625) was a lawyer and an amateur astronomer. His Uranometria, a star atlas and catalog, was the first of its kind. It represented a tremendous leap forward both esthetically and for its astronomical content, and became the standard for all later star atlases.

"Bayer’s atlas included many innovations. Unlike previous astronomy texts, Uranometria portrayed the constellations as maps and not merely as pictures corresponding to mythology. Each plate has a carefully engraved grid so star positions can be determined precisely. He developed a star naming system that was adopted by later stellar cartographers. The stars are shown as they appeared from earth, a reversal from classical tradition where positioning was patterned from celestial globes and it included twelve southern constellations, newly discovered by 16th century voyagers...

"This forerunner of all later star atlases contains 51 star charts, one for each of the traditional 48 Ptolemaic constellations, plus a chart of the newly discovered southern skies, and two planispheres. The maps are engravings, rather than woodcuts, and quite large, being over 37 cm. across. One notable feature of this atlas: the sheer beauty of the plates. There is no simple explanation for this esthetic leap forward. The artist clearly found some inspiration in the De Gheyn engravings in the Aratea published by Hugo Grotius in 1600, but most of Bayer's constellation figures are quite different from De Gheyn's, and generally more attractive. Many have no known prototype whatsoever.

"But the most significant feature of this book is that it is an atlas; a collection of maps, rather than of pictures. Each plate has a carefully engraved grid, so that star positions can be read off to fractions of a degree. These positions were taken, not from Ptolemy's catalog, but from the catalog of Tycho Brahe, which had circulated in manuscript in the 1590s, but which was only printed in 1602.

"Another important feature of the atlas was the introduction of a new system of stellar nomenclature. Bayer assigned Greek letters to the brighter stars, generally in the order of magnitude, so that the bright star in the Bull's eye became alpha Tauri (and the brightest star in the Centaur became our familiar alpha Centauri.) These letters were placed on the charts themselves, and also in a table that accompanied each chart" (Linda Hall Library of Science).

Norman Library 142. DSB I, pp. 530-531. Brown, p. 30. Honeyman 246. Zinner 3951. Warner, The Sky Explored, pp 18-19. Item #01987

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