Obelisk Art History
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Andreas Cellarius
The first space race

Science vs. Religion

It was the first space race: did the sun orbit the earth or did the earth orbit the sun? In the 1600s it was up for grabs. The greatest minds in science and religion waged a war of observation and ideology to try and answer the question: what is our true place in the universe?

In this turbulent environment worked Andreas Cellarius, a cartographer and the president of a latin school in Hoorn, in North Holland. We don’t know much about Cellarius—only his birth, his death, and that he was interested in the mathematics of fortified walls and liked to write poetry about his fellow teachers.

An atlas for the universe

But in 1660, Andreas Cellarius published a truly unique document. Cellarius worked with the engraver and portraitist Frederick Hendrick Van Hove, and the cartographer Johannes van Loon to compile the known history of astronomical systems into a single star atlas. Every competing theory and philosophy of the cosmos in a single, beautiful volume. He called it the Harmonia Macrocosmica.

The Harmonia Macrocosmica covered 1500 years of astronomical theory. It begins with Ptolemy’s Almagest star catalog from 150 A.D., the oldest surviving comprehensive document of celestial motion. The Macrocosmica then describes the renaissance theories of Nicolaus Copernicus, who’s 1543 book On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres made the dramatic statement that the earth orbited the sun, and became a cornerstone of the scientific revolution. The Macrocosmica continues to catalog Tyco Brahe’s planisphere, a “geo-heliocentric” system where the Sun and Moon orbit the Earth, and the other planets orbit the Sun.

The final pages of the Macrocosmica leave science behind in a series of colorful and imaginative depictions of the constellations, Greek, Roman, and the later Christian icons. It’s a sweeping and stunningly beautiful work, criticized in its time for refusing to take a side in the debate of sun vs earth, science vs religion. But to criticize the Macrocosmica is to misunderstand its purpose—it wasn’t telling us how the universe works, it was showing how we see ourselves in it.


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Reed Enger, "Andreas Cellarius, The first space race," in Obelisk Art History, Published May 10, 2016; last modified November 08, 2022, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/andreas-cellarius/.

Andreas Cellarius was a German Printmaker born in 1596. Cellarius contributed to the Northern Renaissance movement, worked in Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden and died in 1665.

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 1 — The Planisphere of Ptolemy, Andreas Cellarius

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 1 — The Planisphere of Ptolemy 1660

The Sizes of the Celestial Bodies, Andreas Cellarius

The Sizes of the Celestial Bodies 1660

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 11 — The Location of the Earth, Andreas Cellarius

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 11 — The Location of the Earth 1660

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 12 — Upright and Oblique Spheres, Andreas Cellarius

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 12 — Upright and Oblique Spheres 1660

Hemisphere of the Old World, Andreas Cellarius

Hemisphere of the Old World 1660

The Ptolemaic hypothesis, demonstrating the planetary motions, Andreas Cellarius

The Ptolemaic hypothesis, demonstrating the planetary motions 1660

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 15 — Opposition and Conjunction of the Planets, Andreas Cellarius

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 15 — Opposition and Conjunction of the Planets 1660

The Sun in an eccentric orbit without epicycles, Andreas Cellarius

The Sun in an eccentric orbit without epicycles 1660

The Revolution of the Sun around the Earth, Andreas Cellarius

The Revolution of the Sun around the Earth 1660

The Moon in an eccentric orbit with epicycles, Andreas Cellarius

The Moon in an eccentric orbit with epicycles 1660

The varying phases and appearances of the Moon, Andreas Cellarius

The varying phases and appearances of the Moon 1660

The Ptolemaic Cosmography, Andreas Cellarius

The Ptolemaic Cosmography 1660

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 20 — Mars, Jupiter & Saturn, Andreas Cellarius

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 20 — Mars, Jupiter & Saturn 1660

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 21 — Venus and Mercury, Andreas Cellarius

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 21 — Venus and Mercury 1660

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 22 — First Hemisphere, Andreas Cellarius

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 22 — First Hemisphere 1660

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 23 — Second Hemisphere, Andreas Cellarius

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 23 — Second Hemisphere 1660

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 24 — Northern Stellar Hemisphere, Andreas Cellarius

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 24 — Northern Stellar Hemisphere 1660

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 25 — Celestial and Terrestrial Hemispheres, Andreas Cellarius

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 25 — Celestial and Terrestrial Hemispheres 1660

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 26 — Northern Stellar Hemisphere, Andreas Cellarius

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 26 — Northern Stellar Hemisphere 1660

The Southern Stellar Hemisphere, Andreas Cellarius

The Southern Stellar Hemisphere 1660

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 28 — Southern Hemisphere, Andreas Cellarius

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 28 — Southern Hemisphere 1660

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 29 — Southern Stellar and Terrestrial Hemisphere, Andreas Cellarius

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 29 — Southern Stellar and Terrestrial Hemisphere 1660

Planetary Orbits Encompassing the Earth, Andreas Cellarius

Planetary Orbits Encompassing the Earth 1660

The Copernicus Planisphere, Andreas Cellarius

The Copernicus Planisphere 1660

The Copernican World System, Andreas Cellarius

The Copernican World System 1660

The Tycho Brahe Planisphere, Andreas Cellarius

The Tycho Brahe Planisphere 1660

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 7 — Brahe's Construction of the World, Andreas Cellarius

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 7 — Brahe's Construction of the World 1660

The Planisphere of Aratus, Andreas Cellarius

The Planisphere of Aratus 1660

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 9 — Brahe’s Altitudes of the Planets, Andreas Cellarius

Harmonia Macrocosmica Plate 9 — Brahe’s Altitudes of the Planets 1660

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