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    Contributions of Raphael and of Albrecht Dürer to Astronomy Essay

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    It may not be known to all that Raphael’s Madonna di Foligno has a special interest to astronomers. It is, I believe, the only painting of any note which commemorates an astronomical event. This picture was painted by Raphael in 15 11, and placed in the Church of Ara-Cœli, as a votive offering from Sigismund Conti, secretary to Pope Julius II, for his miraculous escape from death by an aerolite. The picture was removed to the Convent of Fo- ligno in 1565 by a niece of Conti’s, and was carried off by the French in 1792. It was returned in 1815 and is now in the Vatican. Such is a brief sketch of the wanderings of this exquisite painting. Its purely astronomical interest consists in the portrayal of the fall of the aerolite itself, which occupies the centre of the drawing must have been made by Raphael from the personal ac- count of Conti (who was living in 15 12), and, therefore, it has even a certain scientific value. It does not seem to be superfluous to call attention to this item of history, which lends a slight additional interest to one of the world’s great pictures. I have presented a good photograph of this painting to the Astronomical Society’s library.

    The contribution of Albrecht Dürer to astronomy is even more pronounced and permanent, though it is unknown, I believe, to all of his biographers. Hipparchus (B. C. 127) and Ptolemy (A. D. 136) fixed the positions of stars by celestial latitudes and longitudes, and named the stars so fixed, by describing their situation in some constellation figure. The celestial globes of that day have all disappeared, and we have only a few Arabian copies of them, not more ancient than the Xlllth century, so that we may say that the original constellation figures are entirely lost. The situations of the principal stars in each one of the forty-eight classic constellations are verbally described by Ptolemy. In Lalande’s Bibliographie Astronomique we find that in A. D. 15 15 Albrècht Durer published two star maps, one of each hemisphere, engraved on wood ; in which the stars of Ptolemy were laid down by Heinfogel, a mathematician of Nuremberg. The stars themselves were connected by constellation-figures, drawn by Dürer.

    These constellation-figures of Dürer, with but few changes, have been copied by Bayer in his Uranometria (A. D. 1603); by Flamsteed in Atlas Cœlestis (1729); by Argelander in Uranometria Nova (1843), and by Heis in Atlas Cœlestis Novus {1872), and have thus become classic. It is a matter of congratula- tion that designs which are destined to be so permanent should have come down to us from the hands of so consummate a master.

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