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Art Through Time: A Global View

Cosmology and Belief Art: Cosmological Diagram (Map of the Heavens) from the Phenomena of Aratus

» French School

Cosmological Diagram (Map of the Heavens) from the Phenomena of Aratus

Cosmological Diagram (Map of the Heavens) from the Phenomena of Aratus
Artist / Origin: French School
Region: Europe
Date: ca. 1000
Period: 1000 CE – 1400 CE
Material: Vellum
Medium: Calligraphy, Illumination, and Illustrated Books
Dimensions: H: 14 1/8 in. (36 cm.), W: 11 ¾ in. (30 cm.)
Location: Musée Municipal, Boulogne-Billancourt, France
Credit: Courtesy of Lauros/Giraudon/ Bridgeman Art Library

This illustration comes from a circa eleventh-century French version of the Phenomena.

Written by the third century BCE poet Aratus of Soli, the Phenomena is a “scientific” poem of 1,154 lines based on an older work of the same title by the Greek astronomer Eudoxus of Cnidus (ca. 370 BCE). Following Eudoxus, Aratus lays out a systematic description of the constellations and their places in the heavens. As the image demonstrates, this view held that the earth was a sphere located at the center of a celestial realm also conceived as spherical.

Aratus’s work became extremely popular after it first appeared and remained so for centuries, inspiring commentaries as well as copies up until the sixteenth century, when Copernicus’s postulation that that the earth revolves around the sun revolutionized thinking of the universe. During the Roman period, the Phenomena was translated into Latin by several authors, including Cicero. The current manuscript borrows its text from one of these Latin versions. The image that the folio presents reveals its pre-Copernican origins; the work was created at a time when science, religion, and the occult were inextricably entwined. Emblems of the twelve signs of the zodiac are juxtaposed with representations of the planets, both understood as creations of God and manifestations of the order He imposes on heaven and earth.

Additional Resources

Edson, E. and E. Savage-Smith. Medieval Views of the Cosmos. Foreword by Terry Jones. Oxford: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2004.

North, John. Cosmos: An Illustrated History of Astronomy and Cosmology, rev. ed. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2008.

Page, Sophie. Astrology in Medieval Manuscripts. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002.

Scafi, Alessandro. Mapping Paradise: A History of Heaven on Earth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.

Snyder, James, Henry Luttikhuizen, and Dorothy Verkerk. Art of the Middle Ages, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005.

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Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2