The Most Beautiful Astronomical Atlas of the 17th Century. An Extraordinary Copy in Contemporary Color

Cellarius, Andreas (ca. 1596-1665)

Harmonia Macrocosmica seu Atlas Universalis et Novus, totius universi creati Cosmographiam Generalem, et Novam exhibens.

Amsterdam: Jan Jansson, 1661


51 x 35 cm. 364 pages. Collation: π1 (engraved t.p.), [?]7, (a)-(z)2, (aa)-(hh)2, (ii)1; A-Z2, Aa-Zz2, Aaa-Iii2. Complete with the additional engraved title page, printed title page, and 29 double-page engraved plates.

SECOND EDITION (1st 1660).

THE ONLY CELESTIAL ATLAS published in the Netherlands during the golden age of Dutch cartography, and one of the most spectacular atlases published in the second half of the seventeenth century. The text is lavishly illustrated with an added engraved allegorical title page, 29 engraved double-page cosmological charts, and 6 smaller -4 engraved and 2 woodcut- illustrations in the text. This is Koeman’s variant b, with the plates numbered 1-29.

An extremely fine copy in contemporary armorial red morocco gilt, gilt panelled sides with gilt fleurons in corners of central panel and gilt decorations composed of drawer handle and other tools filling the broad outer frame at the four corners, spine gilt with eight raised bands.With the arms of the Van Reigersbergs of Zeland to upper cover (J.B. Rietstap, Armorial Général, vol.II, p.543). The Van Reigersbergs had close associations with the leading Dutch intellectual and political circles of the day; Maria van Reigersberg was married to Hugo Grotius.

The engravings in this copy are beautifully painted in contemporary 17th c. colors, highlighted with gold and silver throughout. 

The first 21 plates constitute a historical survey of cosmological theories, illustrating the motions of the sun and planets according to Ptolemy, Copernicus and Tycho Brahe. The last eight plates are celestial hemispheres and planispheres depicting the constellations. Ten of the plates (9-11, 13, 15, 16, 18-21) are the work of Johannes van Loon (d. 1686). The allegorical title page is the work of Frederik Hendrik van den Hove (1628/29-1698).

Andreas Cellarius was born around 1596 in Neuhausen, Germany. He later moved to the Netherlands were, in 1625, he married Catharina Eltmans at Amsterdam. In 1630 he moved to The Hague and in 1637 he was appointed as rector of the Latin School in Hoorn. He remained there until his death in 1665.

“In the foreword to his celestial atlas, which he dedicates to the English king Charles II, Andreas Cellarius explains that he originally drafted the plates and celestial maps contained within it solely for his own use, and for lovers of astronomy, but that after repeated appeals from the publisher, he had decided to make them available to a wider public. Although planned over two volumes, only the first volume of the ‘Harmonia Macrocosmica’ was actually published. It describes the heavens and the most important world systems, above all that of Claudius Ptolemy. In the second volume, the world systems of Nicolaus Copernicus and Tycho Brahe were to be handled in more detail, along with a discussion of solar and lunar eclipses and a description of new discoveries made since the invention of the telescope. In the colophon, the author expresses the hope that the Lord will grant him a sufficiently long life in order to see the work to completion but this was not to be.

“The work is prefaced by a poem in praise of Cellarius by Johannes Christenius (1599/ 1600-c. 1672), professor of law at the Athenaeum Illustre in Amsterdam. The text consists of a long ‘Praeloquium’ or foreword in which the history of astronomy is presented, followed by the actual text, in which the 29 folio plates contained in the work are discussed in detail. The majority of the plates represent the Ptolemaic, geocentric world system. Just one plate (8) reflects to the alternative geocentric system proposed by the Roman author Martianus Capella (5th century AD). This plate is derived from an illustration in the Leiden ‘Aratea’ and for this reason wrongly attributed to Aratus. The Copernican system is dealt with in two plates, while the worldview of Tycho Brahe is depicted in three plates.

“The position circles of the celestial and terrestrial spheres are presented in three plates, followed by five plates illustrating various astrological concepts and the motion and phases of the moon. The final eight plates are devoted to the constellations and the fixed stars. Two plates depict the constellations of the northern and southern celestial hemispheres in the traditional forms assigned to them by the Greeks, while another two depict the stars in the ‘Christian’ constellations following the ‘Coelum stellatum Christianum’ by Julius Schiller. The most spectacular plates, however, are those that show the Earth from four different perspectives, seen as if through a translucent sphere on which the constellations are drawn. It is the inclusion of these perspective plates, which Cellarius calls ‘scenographiae’ (scene paintings) in Latin, that makes his atlas one of the most outstanding works published on celestial cartography in the 17th century.”

The “Harmonia Macrocosmica” in the larger context of the Jansson “Novus Atlas”:

“The publication of Andreas Cellarius' ‘Harmonia Macrocosmica’ in 1660 forms the final chapter of an ambitious cartographic project initiated 25 years earlier by the Amsterdam publisher Johannes Janssonius (1588-1664), namely, the publication of an atlas in several volumes which described not only the surface of the Earth but the whole of Creation, including the cosmos and its history. The seeds of this plan had been sown nearly a century earlier by the renowned cartographer Gerard Mercator. In 1569, in the foreword to his ‘Chronologia’, Mercator stated his intention to publish an all-encompassing ‘cosmography’, a multi-volume atlas that would describe not only ancient and modern geography, but also the seas, the cities of the world, the firmament and chronology. Mercator published the first four volumes of his atlas between 1585 and 1589, with a supplementary fifth volume being published by his son Rumold (c. 1545-1599) in 1595.

“Following Mercator's death, his project was taken up by a succession of publishers, but it would be Johannes Janssonius who finally turned it into reality. In 1636 Janssonius and Henricus Hondius published the first version of their Novus Atlas, featuring some 320 maps in four languages. In 1650 Janssonius added a fifth volume, a nautical atlas with supplemental maps of the eastern hemisphere. A further volume was published between 1658 and 1662 and included the cartography of the ancient world. With the addition of Andreas Cellarius' ‘Harmonia Macrocosmica’ in 1660 and an eight-volume compilation describing a number of cities (published in 1657), Janssonius' ‘description of the world’ - in the meantime entitled the ‘Novus Atlas Absolutissimus’ - was now complete in terms of the form originally envisioned by Mercator almost 100 years previously.”(Robert van Gent, “The Finest Atlas of the Heavens”, introduction)


I. The engraved title page: The allegorical figure of Urania, muse of astronomy, is surrounded by (clockwise from her left) Tycho Brahe, Ptolemy, an unidentified astronomer (possibly the Islamic astronomer al-Battani), King Alfonso “el Sabio”, Philippe van Lansberge, and Copernicus.

II. The Cosmological Plates:

Plate 1. Ptolemaic System (Planisphere)

Plate 2. Ptolemaic System (Scenograph)

Plate 3. Ptolemaic System, with inset of the Tychonic system

Plate 4. Copernican System (Planisphere)

Plate 5. Copernican System (Scenograph)

Plate 6. Tychonic System (Planisphere)

Plate 7. “Tychonic” (Martinaus Capella’s) System (Scenograph)

Plate 8. The “Aratean” System of Martianus Capella

Plate 9. Tycho’s system of the courses, altitudes, and distances (from Earth and from each other) of the planets.

Plate 10. The Magnitudes of the Celestial Bodies (based on Ptolemy’s “Planetary Hypothesis”)

Plate 11. An Armillary Sphere

Plate 12. Hemispheres displaying the celestial and terrestrial motions and longitudes of each sphere: 1.The upright sphere (i.e. the equatorial co-ordinate system) and 2. The oblique sphere (i.e. the ecliptic co-ordinate system), along with the influences of the stars.

Plate 13. The Old World

Plate 14. Ptolemaic Hypothesis, demonstrating the planetary motions in eccentric and epicyclical orbits.

Plate 15. Schematic of the planets at opposition and conjunction (the astrological “aspects”)

Plate 16. The Sun’s motion around the Earth along the deferent, without an epicycle

Plate 17. The apparent spiral revolution of the Sun around the Earth as a result of changing declination (sun’s changing angular distance from the celestial equator)

Plate 18. The motion of the Moon, with epicycles

Plate 19. Phases of the Moon

Plate 20. Motions of the three superior planets: Mars, Jupiter, Saturn

Plate 21. Motion of the inferior planets: Mercury and Venus

Plate 22. Christianized constellations I (Planisphere)

Plate 23. Christianized constellations II (Planisphere)

Plate 24. Sky of the Northern Hemisphere with pagan constellations (Planisphere)

Plate 25. Northern constellations as seen from outside the celestial sphere (Scenograph)

Plate 26. Northern constellations mapped onto the Earth’s northern hemisphere (Scenograph)

Plate 27. Sky of the Southern Hemisphere with pagan constellations (Planisphere)

Plate 28. Southern constellations as seen from outside the celestial sphere (Scenograph)

Plate 29. Southern constellations mapped onto the Earth’s southern hemisphere (Scenograph)

Notes on the Constellation plates:

The figures in the plates showing the traditional pagan constellations are copies of those appearing on a celestial globe of the Amsterdam cartographer Petrus Plancius (1552-1622) published in 1612. The plate includes a number of modern constellations introduced by Plancius, many inspired by New World fauna:

Northern hemisphere (plates 24-26): The Giraffe, River Jordan, Tigris & Euphrates, the Bee, the Lesser Crab, the Unicorn, and the Southern Arrow.

Southern Hemisphere (plates 27-29): the Southern Arrow, the Southern Triangle, the Peacock, the American Indian, the Crane, the Phoenix, the Toucan, the Lesser Water Snake, Bird of Paradise, the Fly, the Chameleon, the Flying Fish, the Goldfish/Swordfish, Noah’s Dove, the Cock, the Unicorn.

Bibliographical references: Koeman, Atlantes Neerlandici, I:801B; Ashworth Jr., William B., “Allegorical Astronomy: Baroque Scientists encoded their most Dangerous Opinions in Art”, The Sciences, 25, (1985), nr. 5, 34-37