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Perfect in Every Sense

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Scientific Iconography on an Equation Clock by Jost Bürgi and the Self-Understanding of the Astronomers at the Kassel Court in the Late 1580s

image of Nuncius

At the center of this article is an iconographic analysis of the eight silver reliefs on the sides of a table clock made in 1591 by Jost Bürgi, the court clockmaker of Landgrave Wilhelm IV of Hessen-Kassel. The reliefs present an astronomical ancestral picture gallery, running from the Patriarchs of the Old Testament to Copernicus. The author argues that the “storyboard” for this sequence of images must have been conceived down to its smallest details by the Kassel court astronomer Christoph Rothmann; indeed, many of the scenes shown, along with many particular details depicted within them, are literally described in Rothmann’s never-published manuscript Observationes stellarum fixarum of 1589. The final section of the essay compares these reliefs to the images created for Tycho Brahe at his Uraniborg and Stjerneborg observatories. The author concludes that the sequence of the reliefs in Kassel, culminating in the representation of Copernicus and his world view, is a reflection of the acrimonious debate extending over many years between the heliocentrist Rothmann and the geo-heliocentrist Brahe regarding the veracity of the heliocentric world view.

Affiliations: 1: Astronomisch-Physikalisches Kabinett, Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel, Germany


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