Divine Sky: The Artistry of Astronomical Maps

Planisphere celeste septentrional, Philippe de La Hire (1702) Divine Sky: The Artistry of Astronomical Maps is a small online exhibition featuring a selection of celestial maps from the library holdings of the University of Michigan.

Divine Sky focuses on the fertile period between 1600 and 1900 that produced some of astronomy’s greatest treasures. This astronomical Golden Age was a time when “the art of science and the science of art enjoyed a unique period of reciprocity.” In revisiting it we are transported to a world where art and science were well balanced and in each other’s service, where the universe seemed smaller, and where the skies were filled with familiar characters from myth and legend.
Divine Sky is divided into four sections. Two deal with star charts: single-sheet celestial maps, and atlases, which form their own genre. All are examples of celestial cartography, a largely mathematical discipline whose goal is to accurately translate the celestial sphere onto the two-dimensional space of the printed page. In contrast, other astronomical maps focuses on diagrams that represent various cosmological theories; these provide insight into historical scientific debates over the structure of the cosmos, and into the evolution of the individual’s relationship with the universe. Drawings and early photographs contains drawings of specific astronomical objects and phenomena, providing a more personal insight into one astronomer’s way of seeing.

At right: Planisphere celeste septentrional, Philippe de La Hire (1702). Via MapHist.