“Perhaps the First to Use a Keplerian Telescope for Regular Planetary Observation” (King)

Fontana, Francesco (1602-1656)

Novae Coelestium Terrestriumq[ue] Rerum Observationes, et fortasse hactenus non vulgatae à Francisco Fontana, specillis a se inventis, et ad summam perfectionem perductis editae.

Naples: Apud Gaffarum, Mense Februarii, 1646


SOLE EDITION of one of the great illustrated books of early observational astronomy, written by the Neapolitan Francesco Fontana, “the most renowned Italian telescope maker”(DSB) of his time.

A fine copy in contemporary limp vellum with a few light dampstains and minor blemishes. Complete with the engraved title page, portrait of the author, and folding plate of the moon. The text is illustrated with 27 full-paged engravings of the moon, and 26 large woodcuts of planets.

A truly remarkable work, the  “Observationes” has been called the first true lunar atlas (preceding that of Hevelius by one year.) Moreover, the work includes the first illustrations of the planet Mars made from telescopic observation (in 1636 and 1638). The first chapter includes a very early history of the telescope. Fontana claims to have invented both the “Keplerian” telescope (composed of two convex lenses) in 1608, and the compound microscope (consisting of two converging lenses, one functioning as objective, the other as eyepiece) in 1618; while his claims to have invented these instruments have been proven untrue, Fontana did in fact construct and use both of these instruments and with them he observed Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon; as well as fleas, flies, ants, bees and human hairs.

“In 1646, Francesco Fontana, a Neapolitan, claimed that he had conceived the use of a positive eyepiece before Kepler introduced his telescope but, for this as for his invention of the microscope, we have only his own testimony and that of two fellow Jesuits...”

“Fontana was perhaps the first to use a Keplerian telescope for regular planetary observation. He saw the belts of Jupiter and a marking on Mars which he took to be a permanent feature of the planet.  This was probably the Syrtis Major, a region visible at opposition with a small telescope and recorded a few years later by Christian Huygens and Robert Hooke.  Fontana’s observations of the moon resulted in his making drawings to show the surface features at different phases and, while observing Venus, he noticed irregularities along the inner edge of the crescent which he took to be mountains.”(King, The History of the Telescope, p. 46)

“Fontana began drawing the moon in 1629, and several of his early sketches were circulated and even printed in the works of other astronomers in the early 1640’s.  Not until 1646 did Fontana manage to publish his findings under his own name.  The ‘Observations’ contains woodcut illustrations of a number of planets, but the illustrations of the moon are engraved and make up the bulk of the work.

“In fact, this might be called the earliest lunar atlas, since it features images of the moon at nearly every phase of the lunar cycle.  Four of the early drawings of 1629-40 are included, but the remaining twenty-four were all made in the last months of 1645.” (Ashworth, The Face of the Moon, p. 4)

“At the same time his book contains the first publication concerning a compound microscope of the Keplerian form, i.e. with a convex lens as eye-piece’ (Clay, The History of the Microscope, p. 9).

Carli and Favaro 211; Houzeau and Lancaster II, 1328; Riccardi I/1 467 (‘raro ed apprezzato’); Literature: King, The History of the Telescope p. 46; Clay, The History of the Microscope p. 9; Ashworth, The Face of the Moon: Galileo to Apollo, p. 4)