Aratea

Ms. Voss. Lat. Q. 79 - Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit (Leiden, Netherlands)

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Codiology

Type
Extent / Format

200 pages / 22.5 x 20.0 cm

Origin
Date
After 825
Style
Genre
Language
Patron

Louis the Pious (reigned 813/814 - 840) and his wife Judith (c. 800 - 843)

Illustrations

39 full-page miniatures

Former owners

Jacob Susius (Ghent)
Hugo Grotius
Queen Christina of Sweden
Isaak Voss

Short description

The Aratea is an astronomical textbook, which is oriented on the ancient example of the text Phaenomena by the poet Aratos of Soloi. The work comprises 200 pages with 39 large illustrations, which explain the planets, celestial phenomena, and weather signs. As in the Phaenomena, the figures and forms of ancient Greek mythology serve the author of the Aratea as the foundation of his astronomy. The work is a milestone of teaching about the stars that enjoyed popularity over the centuries, as evidenced by its numerous translations. It was commissioned by Louis the Pious, son of the Emperor Charlemagne.

Facsimile editions available

Description

Aratea

The Aratea is a treatise on astronomy, oriented toward the ancient example of the text Phaenomena by the poet Aratus of Soli. The work is comprised of 200 pages with 39 large illustrations, which explain the planets, celestial phenomena, and rising of the fixed stars. As in the Phaenomena, the figures and forms of ancient Greek mythology serve the author of the Aratea as the foundation of his astronomy. The work is a milestone of teaching about the stars that enjoyed popularity over the centuries, as evidenced by its numerous translations.

A work with a history

The Aratea originates from the 9th century in the time of Emperor Louis the Pious. It was probably given on behalf of his second wife Judith, who was known as a great patron of the arts. The work was initially translated into Latin by the Roman general Caesar Claudius Germanicus and was copied into Gothic script in the 13th century. At this time the codex resided at the northern French abbey of St. Bertin. The manuscript was acquired in the 16th century by the Belgian humanist Jakob Susius, it later came to the philosopher Hugo Grotius and finally to Queen Christina of Sweden. She gave the text to her librarian Isaac Vossius, who left it in his inheritance to the Leiden University Library, where it remains to this day.

Valuable not only for artistic but also practical applications

The unusually beautiful paintings and text of the Aratea not only made the manuscript an ornament in the owner’s library, but it also had a practical use. At the end of antiquity and in the early middle ages, the constellations of the night’s sky served people as a sign post, indicating the time of day, the changing of the seasons, and assisted in the prediction of weather. Consequently the manuscript was a practical guidebook for voyagers at sea and also for its readers on land.

A milestone of illumination

The 39 full-page miniatures, framed in luminous red, were completed by an unusually talented but unfortunately anonymous illuminator. The artist chose a deep dark blue for the background of his illustrations and used the finest gold leaf for his portrayals of the constellations. Every exposure to light can make the stars shine, thus the artist succeeded in creating a true to life copy of a clear night’s sky. The depictions of the animated figures from ancient archetypes are powerful and lively. Few other artists succeeded in their time at achieving such artistic sophistication with so few materials. The text of the Aratea is found on separate pages of the codex, so as not to disrupt the gorgeous paintings. This illumination technique was little short of groundbreaking and was first employed in this manuscript.

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