Fine’s Astronomical & Mathematical Magnum Opus

Finé, Oronce (1494-1555)

Protomathesis opus uarium, ac scitu non minus utile quàm iucundum, nunc primùm in lucem foeliciter emissum: cuius index uniuersalis, in uersa pagina continetur.

Paris: Impensis Gerardi Morrhij & Ioannis Petri, 1532


Large Folio: 33.5 x 24 cm. Collation: AA8, A-L6, M-N6, O-Z8, Aa-Bb8, Cc6, Dd8 (including both blanks, F8 and N6.) Complete.


Bound in near-contemporary vellum, worn at corners, damage to upper, rear corner, rebacked at an early date. Overall a fine, broad-margined copy with minor cosmetic faults as follows: Title slightly shaved at head; conjugates D1/8, E1/8, and Cc1/6 browned; Damp-stain in margin of sigs R-T, and gutter of sig. N; occasional small spots or ink stains.

The “Protomathesis”, a universally acclaimed monument of book production and design, is profusely illustrated.The book is introduced by a fine architectural title page border with a lunette of Hercules defeating the Lernean Hydra. This is followed by the well-known full-page image of the goddess of astronomy, Urania, lecturing Finé, who holds a book and an astrolabe, beneath a spherical model of the solar system. This magnificent woodcut is repeated in this volume in Book I of the De Cosmographia. There are an additional 280 additional woodcuts in the text, including geometric figures, polyhedra, models of the geocentric solar system, diagrams of eccentric orbits, Finé’s “octant mesh” for mapping an eight of the globe, and detailed renderings of numerous instruments: quadrants, cross-staves, sundials, geometrical squares, astronomical rings, astrolabes, and the hydraulic astronomical clock. In addition, the text is adorned with fine ornamental initials and head-pieces.

Finé (1494-1555) “was regius professor of mathematics and dedicated the volume to François I. Before Johnson’s article and Brun’s consideration of Finé, little attention had been paid to the statements made by Finé’s contemporaries that he was considered as well versed in art as in the sciences. His work as a designer is closely related to his major fields of mathematics, astronomy, and geography, and his contribution to book production is particularly interesting in extending beyond the illustration to the ornamentation of scientific texts.”(Mortimer 225)

“The year after his appointment by King François I as Royal Lecturer in Mathematics at the newly founded Collège Royal in 1531, Finé published his ‘Protomathesis.’ In the preface, he explains his aim to show the importance of mathematics, and to place practical mathematics on a sure theoretical footing. The ‘Protomathesis’ is a large, handsomely illustrated work. The title explains that it contains various works, ‘no less useful than pleasing’ which are for the first time to be set out clearly. The four parts of the work begin with arithmetic and geometry, and then move on to astronomy and instruments. Given Finé’s interest in instruments, and his statements about the need to ground practical mathematics in theoretical understanding, it is perhaps no surprise that the fourth book ‘Concerning sundials and quadrants’ includes descriptions on how to make and use a variety of sundials.”(Catherine Eagleton, Oronce Finé’s Sundials, in The Worlds of Oronce Finé, p. 85)

Finé’s “Protomathesis” presents the various branches of scientific knowledge –mathematical, astronomical, geographical, necessary to the understanding of “cosmography”, conceptualized by Finé, as comprised of two fields of knowledge: Astronomy and Geography. The understanding and application of this knowledge is facilitated by the use of instruments, and Finé’s technical drawings of astronomical, geodetic, and horological instruments in the volume are so accurate that, as Catherine Eagleton has shown, they could be –and were- copied to make actual instruments and could themselves be used as paper instruments.

Hoover 312, Lalande, p. 50; Smith, Rara Arithmetica, pp. 160-61; Stillwell, The Awakening Interest in Science during the First Century of Printing, 838