1566. · Venice
Rare editions of the first printed star atlas and "the first handbook for stargazers" (Gingerich). The visual depiction of the night sky in Alessandro Piccolomini's (1508-1579) La Sfera and De le Stelle Fisse, first published in 1540, departed radically from the anthropomorphized woodcut figures of individual constellations that preceded it in illustrated editions of Hyginus, and thus permanently changed the form in which celestial knowledge was conveyed. Piccolimini's work introduced the system of stellar nomenclature that, with the modifications subsequently made by Bayer, remains in use by astronomers today. Stars are identified here by lower case letters for a given constellation, with tables conveniently listing magnitudes from first to fourth. The work proved wildly popular, with twelve editions in Italian and Latin appearing during the 16th century.
The first of the book's two treatises is a traditional cosmology in which Piccolomini establishes his astronomical principles and defends the work of Ptolemy. The second treatise opens with brief accounts of the stories and myths of the Greek and Roman gods who are immortalized in the constellations of the star atlas that makes up the rest of the work. The atlas consists of 45 charts, each presenting a different constellation, and is followed by 138 pages of tables recording the luminosity of individual stars.
Born to the same Sienese family as Pope Pius II, Alessandro Piccolomini (1508-1579) was a poet, philosopher, and astronomer whose scientific circle included Benedetti, Baldi, and Francesco Barozzi. He achieved prominence for his Italian translations of scientific and mathematical texts, including a paraphrase of Aristostle's Mechanica, which according to P.L. Rose, would subsequently influence Galileo.
These companion treatises, which when published alone sometimes each contain their own star chart, carry only one copy of the charts when bound together. The present works from the Venetian press of Giovanni Varisco, though dated 1566 and 1570, apparently were often offered together by the Varisco firm: Harvard, Oklahoma and Wisconsin preserve the 1566 and 1570 La Sfera and De le Stelle Fisse bound together in the same volume just as we see here.
OCLC lists U. S. copies of La Sfera, (Varisco 1566) at Harvard, Brown, Santa Clara, Illinois, Oklahoma, Wisconsin; of De le Stelle Fisse (Varisco, 1570) at Yale, Harvard, Penn St., Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Colorado, Cornell, San Francisco St., Burndy Library, Linda Hall Library, Morgan Library, San Diego St., Folger Library.
*De le Stelle Fisse (1570): Adams P-1113. La Sfera (1566): not in Adams. Riccardi I.270.10; Warner, Sky Explored, p. 200; R. Suter, "The Scientific Work of Alessandro Piccolomini," Isis 60 (l969) 210-22; Owen Gingerich, "Piccolomini's star atlas," Sky and Telescope 62 (l981). 532-4. (Inventory #: 5337)