Ptolemy Ptolémée


2nd Century A.D. - IIe siècle après J.C.

Iconography of Ptolemy's Portrait
Iconographie du portrait de Ptolémée

1570 Day

Anonymous "IB & F", Ptolemeus (detail), 1570, Engraving, ? x ? cm, in Euclide of Megara, H. Billingsley (translation in English) and M. I. Dee (preface), The Elements of Geometrie..., London, John Daye, 1570, frontispiece.

Anonyme « IB & F », Ptolemeus (détail), 1570, Gravure, ? x ? cm, dans Euclide of Megara, H. Billingsley (translation in English) and M. I. Dee (preface), The Elements of Geometrie..., London, John Daye, 1570, frontispice.


In this frontispiece, signed "IB & F" at left bottom, seated Ptolomeus figures at left top of plate. He wears a crown and is looking towards the stars to which he is pointing with his left finger at the far end of his extended right arm. His left hand rests on the meridian of a big globe near the North Pole. His counterpart, on the right side of the globe, is Marinus. Beneath this group appears on a label the inscription "VIRESCIT VVLNERE VERITAS".

On top of this group, under the rounded frame, death is shown doing its job. Under Ptolomeus we find Aratus, Hipparchus, Geometria, Artihmetica. Under Marinus are Strabo, Polibius, Astronomia with an armillary sphere, Musica with a lute. Mercvrivs occupies the center bottom of the page.

Dans cette planche frontispice, signée en bas à gauche « IB & F », Ptolemeus assis est représenté tout en haut à gauche. Il porte une couronne et regarde vers le ciel étoilé qu'il désigne de l'index au bout de son bras droit tendu. Sa main gauche repose sur le méridien tout près du pôle nord d'un grand globe terrestre. Son pendant, du côté droit du globe, est Marinus. Sous ce groupe un phylactère porte l'inscription « VIRESCIT VVLNERE VERITAS ».

Au-dessus d'eux, dans le redent cintré du cadre, la grande faucheuse de la mort se livre à sa sale besogne. Sous Ptolemeus figurent Aratus, Hipparchus, Geometria, Artihmetica. Sous Marinus on trouve Strabo, Polibius, Astronomia avec une sphère armillaire, Musica avec un luth. Tout en bas au centre se trouve Mercvrivs.


Collaboration from Kristen LIPPINCOTT

Ptolemy becomes a globe-carrier to symbolise his understanding of the astronomy and astrology of the Cosmos (see, for example, the figure of Ptolemy with a terrestrial sphere in the frontispiece to Euclid's Elements of Geometrie, London, John Day, 1570).

He can usually be identified by his crown - an attribute derived from the medieval misunderstanding that the astronomer, Claudius Ptolemaus, was one of the great Ptolemaic Kings of Egypt. Confusions arise, however, as Atlas is also often depicted as an astronomer-king, following the historicization of the mythological figure by Diodorus Siculus. Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica, III, 60, 2. See also the astrological text mentioned by Saxl, Vatican, Biblioteca apostolica, Ms Pal. lat. 1417, Diologus inter Nemroth et Joathon de astronomia, which contains an illustration of two globe-bearing astronomers: Atlas, who is describeed in the didascalia as "Atlas, the great astrologer, King of Spain, who carries on his bent shoulders the heavens covered with stars" and Nembrod (Nimrud?) "the observer of the heavens and the King of the Chaldeans, who holds the globe on his bent back, but without the stars" (the illumination apears on fol. 1r of the manuscript).

One example of a regal astronomer appears as the frontispiece to William Cuningham's, The Cosmographical Glasse..., printed by John Day in 1559. For a reproduction and discussion, see S.K. Heninger, Jr., The Cosmographical Glass, Renaissance Diagrams of the Universe, San Marino CA, 1977, pp. 1-4, and J. Bennett and D. Bertoloni Meli, Sphaera mundi, Astronomy Books in the Whipple Museum, 1478-1600, Cambridge, 1994, p. 54. See also ibid., fig. 109, which shows Ptolemy using his rulers to measure the angular distance of the Sun from the zenith. For a discussion of Ptolemy's instruments, see J. Bennett, The Divided Circle, A History of Instruments for Astronomy, Navigation and Surveying, Oxford, 1987, pp. 12-16.

Anonymous "ID", Coelifer Atlas, 1559, engraving, ? x ? cm, in William Cunningham, The Cosmographical Glasse, London, John Day, 1559.

Day later reused the Cuningham's plate so serve as the frontispiece for Dee's English translation of Euclid's Elements of Geometrie, which he published in 1570. Ptolemy is shown with the ancient geographer, Marinus, flanking a large terrestrial globe and pointing to the stars.


Collaboration from Robert H. van Gent

Several Ptolemy portraits can found in this book:

BENNETT, J.A., & D.B. Meli, Sphaera Mundi - Astronomy Books 1478-1600, Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Cambridge, 1994.

Page 92 has the elaborate title page from William Cuningham's The Cosmographical Glasse (John Day, London, 1559) with in the top-centre a terrestrial globe flanked by a crowned Ptolemy (left) pointing to the stars and Marinus of Tyre (right) pointing downwards.



 LIPPINCOTT Kristen, Director, Royal Observatory Greenwich.


mise à jour le 15 janvier 2001

Ptolemy Ptolémée


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