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Astronomical compendium

Astronomical compendium

  • Place of origin:

    Augsburg, Germany (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1561 (made)
    ca. 1561 (made)
    1561 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Schissler, Christopher (maker)
    Unknown (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    [Astronomical Compendium] Copper-gilt, with cast elements, steel, and glass; engraved, punched and decorated with black lac
    [Case] Leather, stamped and gilded

  • Museum number:

    M.165 to E-1938

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval and Renaissance, room 63, case 6

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Pocket-size astronomical compendia were produced in Augsburg and Nuremberg, southern Germany, from the early 16th century by specialist instrument makers. This one contains the universe in a box! Provided its owner had a basic understanding of mathematics, astronomy, astrology and geography, he or she could use the various dials, tables and maps to plan journeys, predict the time of sunset in many towns in Europe (very useful when travelling), make astrological predictions, measure the heights of stars and configure the positioning of the stars for any time in the past or future.

Instruments were also made as treasury items. By the 1560s, it was fashionable for wealthy gentlemen to have a sound understanding of all branches of learning, from arts and literature to mathematics and the natural sciences. This compendium was not simply a functional timepiece but also a work of art, bought for its craftsmanship and ingenuity. Astronomical compendia were housed alongside automatons, clocks and astrolabes in Scientifica, collections celebrating human ability to control nature. They were designed to impress as well as educate.

This compendium was made by one of the most celebrated scientific instrument makers of the 16th century. Christopher Schissler's workshop was famous in his own time. He supplied precision instruments of exquisite quality including globes, astrolabes, sundials, armillary spheres, astronomical compendia and surveying and drawing equipment. Schissler's clientele was international. Many of his dials are laid out for English or Italian latitudes. In 1571 Schissler travelled to the Dresden court of August I, the Elector of Saxony, in order to set up and demonstrate his instruments. He also visited in 1583 the court of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague who was well-known for his fascination with clocks. Instrument makers had to be excellent mathemeticians, artists, engravers and metalworkers.

Physical description

Astronomical compendium of copper-gilt with separate wind-vane and plummet stand, each compartmentalised in separate red leather case (M.165A-B-1938).
[Astronomical Compendium] The compendium is circular and is signed on the outside wall in punched letters: 'CHRISTOPHORVS SCHISSLER FACIEBAT AVGVSTA VINDELICORVM ANNO DOMINI 1561' (Christopher Schissler made this in Augsburg in the year 1561).

It has hinged leaves at top and bottom creating 6 surfaces for dials and maps:
Top leaf:
(a) Quadrant for measuring angles and heights with alidade, or revolving index carrying the sights and showing the degrees cut off on the arc of the instrument. The quadrant is surrounded by engraved moresques filled with a black lac.
(b) Map covering much of modern Germany extending west as far as Brussels in Belgium, North to Lubeck, south to Lucerne in Switzerland and east to Krakow in Poland. The place names are orientated so that south is at the top of the map.
Body section:
(a) Sundial for five latitudes with compass in the centre.
(b) Table of latitudes for various places shown on the map and spring drum to hold gnomon taut.
Bottom leaf:
(a) Conversion table for 'equal' and planetary hours.
(b) Various chronomatic tables including one giving phases of the moon according to age.
[Case] Circular red leather case with stamped and gilt decoration of symmetrical flowers and stems. Inside the case are 2 compartments for the weather vane and the tripod plummet stand. On the side is a hinge for lid (the lid has become separated).
[Lid] Circular red leather lid with stamped and gilt decoration of symmetrical flowers and stems. On the side is a loop for the clip on the base (the base has become separated).
[Plummet Stand for Compendium] Tripod plummet stand for astronomical compendium, copper-gilt, engraved with moresques and hinged at top and bottom.
[Weather Vane for Compendium] Weather vane for astronomical compendium, copper-gilt, cast with baluster stem and swivelling top

Place of Origin

Augsburg, Germany (probably, made)

Date

ca. 1561 (made)
ca. 1561 (made)
1561 (made)

Artist/maker

Schissler, Christopher (maker)
Unknown (maker)

Materials and Techniques

[Astronomical Compendium] Copper-gilt, with cast elements, steel, and glass; engraved, punched and decorated with black lac
[Case] Leather, stamped and gilded

Marks and inscriptions

[Astronomical Compendium] 6 dials or instruments finely engraved or punched with the names of stars, planets, European towns and measurements
[Astronomical Compendium] 'CHRISTOPHORVS SCHISSLER FACIEBAT AVGVSTA VINDELICORVM ANNO DOMINI 1561' Christopher Schissler made this in Augsburg in the year 1561

Dimensions

Height: 3.0 cm closed, Diameter: 8.2 cm
[Astronomical Compendium] Diameter: 7.2 cm, Depth: 1.9 cm, Length: 14.6 cm one leaf open
[Case] Length: 9.0 cm including hinge and clip, Diameter: 8.1 cm, Height: 2.4 cm
[Lid] Length: 8.5 cm including loop, Diameter: 8.2 cm, Height: 1.6 cm
[Plummet Stand for Compendium] Height: 4.7 cm, Length: 5.1 cm open
[Weather Vane for Compendium] Height: 4.9 cm, Width: 2.9 cm

Object history note

Acquired by the Museum in 1938 as a gift of Mr W.E. Miller, FSA. Previous provenance unknown.

Historical significance: This compendium was made by one of the most celebrated scientific instrument makers of the 16th century. Christopher Schissler's workshop was famous in his own time. He was born in around 1531 and started his workshop after 1550. He supplied precision instruments of exquisite quality including globes, astrolabes, sundials, armillary spheres, astronomical compendia and surveying and drawing equipment. Schissler's clientele was international. Many of his dials are laid out for English or Italian latitudes. In 1571 Schissler travelled to the Dresden court of August I, the Elector of Saxony, in order to set up and demonstrate his instruments. He also visited in 1583 the court of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague who was well-known for his fascination with clocks. From 1580 Schissler produced many surveying instruments and became invloved with the survey of the town of Augsburg between 1598 and 1602.

Around a hundred instruments from Schissler's workshop survive. His eldest son Christopher Schissler Junior (also known as Hans Christoph) also became an instrument maker. Christoph Schissler Senior died on 14 September 1608.

The red leather stamped and gilt case is also a rare survivor, adding to the significance of this piece.

Historical context note

Pocket-size astronomical compendia were produced in Augsburg and Nuremberg, southern Germany, from the early 16th century by specialist instrument makers. This one contains the universe in a box! Provided its owner had a basic understanding of mathematics, astronomy, astrology and geography, he/she could use the various dials, tables and maps to plan journeys, predict the time of sunset in many towns in Europe (very useful when travelling), make astrological predictions, measure the heights of stars and configure the positioning of the stars for any time in the past or future.

Specialist makers of scientific instruments catered for an increased interest in navigation, travel, geography and the workings of the universe. Such instruments were made for princes and wealthy merchants who were intending to travel. The map of inside the top leaf is of an area covering much of modern Germany and extends west as far as Brussels in Belgium, North to Lubeck, south to Lucerne in Switzerland and east to Krakow in Poland. The place names are orientated so that south is at the top of the map suggesting it may have been made for a buyer in northern Germany.

Instruments were also made as treasury items. By the 1560s, it was fashionable for wealthy gentlemen to have a sound understanding of all branches of learning, from arts and literature to mathematics and the natural sciences. This compendium was not simply a functional timepiece but also a virtuoso piece, bought for its craftsmanship and ingenuity. Astronomical compendia were housed alongside automatons, clocks and astrolabes in Scientifica, collections celebrating human ability to control nature. They were designed to impress as well as educate.

Descriptive line

Astronomical compendium made by Christopher Schissler, Augsburg (South Germany), 1561, in red leather case

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Bobinger, Maximilian, Alt-Augsburger Kompassmacher, Hans Rosler Verlag, Augsburg, 1966, p.64, pl. 58, pp. 305-6
Holbrook, Mary et al, Science Preserved, Science Museum, London, 1992, No. 45
Zinner, Ernst, Deutsche und Niederlandische Astronomische Instrumente des 11-18 Jahrhunderts, Munich, 1956, p.506
Dunn, Richard, 'Scientific Instruments at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: A Provisional Inventory' in Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society, No.79, 2003, pp6-14

Labels and date

Northern Europe Galleries (Gallery 27, Case 7,):

SUNDIAL AND CASE
Gilt copper, engraved and inlaid with black composition
By Christopher Schissler
South German (Augsburg); dated 1561
M.165&A-1938
Given by W.E. Miller FSA

This sundial could also be used as a calendar and incorporates a series of chronomatic tables. It is also fitted with a plummet stand and wind vane. The Latin inscription records that it was made in 1561 by Schissler, one of the most celebrated makers in Augsburg which along with Nuremberg was an important centre of instrument production. [17/072006]

Production Note

Signed by the maker on main part of object

Materials

Glass; Leather; Steel; Copper gilt

Techniques

Engraving; Gilding; Casting; Cutting; Stamping; Punching

Categories

Metalwork

Collection code

MET

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Qr_O39540
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