Looking at the sky in a dazzling trip to the stars
From time immemorial, the starry sky has fascinated and excited mankind. For this reason, astronomy is one of the oldest sciences of all – myths, rites, ruler cults, cultic worship of the stars, the development of calendar systems and more generally the determination of time were linked to this science, which was also always accompanied by a mystical component. One of the most beautiful astronomical manuscripts is the Aratea Vaticana, which shows star constellations and images in 42 magnificent golden miniatures.
42 fascinating star constellations
The manuscript was commissioned at the court of King Ferdinand I in Naples. It is particularly colourful and richly decorated and contains 42 miniatures on 100 pages. The work came into the collection of Cardinal Maffeo Barberini in the 16th century and was subsequently incorporated into the holdings of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana – of which it still forms the core – along with the entire Barberini collection under Pope Leo XIII in 1901. The noble original manuscript was made on the best parchment, on which in dark ink and single-column in humanistic cursive the text is found with numerous decorated and gilded initials.
A panopticon of the starry sky
The manuscript includes the prose version of the Aratea translation by Germanicus, the Naturalis historia by Pliny the Elder, and De Astronomia by Hyginus. It begins with a frontispiece, followed by a magnificent pictorial page with a map of the heavens. Subsequently, the entire work shows detailed and lovingly executed miniatures throughout, framed and separated from the text. In these miniatures, the celestial bodies are colourfully and expressively depicted. The influence of Arabic and GrecoRoman iconography is clearly evident in the manuscript‘s magnificent depictions. The codex is undoubtedly a gem of Italian Renaissance art and a quite exceptional masterpiece of book art.
A famous text that has been studied for centuries
The teaching poem of Aratos of Soloi, written around 370 BC, was for centuries one of the most popular texts in the field of astronomical understanding and knowledge transmission. His text Phaenomena, written in hexameters, describes the starry sky, the planets and weather signs and links them to the myths of the stars. Its popularity can be seen in its reception and commentary; for example, the text was translated into Latin by Cicero and then again by Germanicus and Avienus, which shows its unbroken impact throughout the Middle Ages. However, it reached the peak of its dissemination in the process of the writing of numerous manuscripts during the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century. One of these magnificent manuscripts is the Aratea Vaticana, in which the famous text is particularly richly illustrated.
Golden stars, shining colours
True to the original facsimile edition of the manuscript Barb. Lat. 76 in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana in Rome. A splendorous decorative page, the famous planisphere and 39 golden miniatures as well as numerous initials illustrate the phantastic Aratea on 100 sheets of 23.2 x 15.1 cm each. The original cover, a richly embroidered velvet cover with the coat of arms of the Barberini, has been exactly reproduced. A magnificent box protects the precious facsimile volume.
The scientific commentary by Lola Massolo describes all aspects of the manuscript, traces its incredible history and explains all miniatures and initials in detail.