Star Lore Art

Book of Fixed Stars


Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi was a Persian astronomer who lived from 903 to 986. At a time when Greek an Roman astronomy fell victim to the Dark Ages, al-Sufi produced the first detailed update of Ptolemy's Almagest in over 800 years.

Book of Fixed Stars, first published in 964 was a successful synthesis of the comprehensive star catalogue in Ptolemyís Almagest with the indigenous Arabic astronomical traditions on the constellations. It contained detailed Illustrations. Each constellation was shown twice, first in mirror image, as it would appear on a celestial globe, and in the way it actually appears in the sky.

Al-Sufi's drawings were not the first artistic interpretations of the legends behind the constellations but he was the first to correctly combine a star map with with a picture. Earlier works like the Leiden Aratea had little or no relation to the actual locations of the stars in a certain constellation - they were, as Ian Ridpath puts it, simple "...a decorative accompaniment to literary texts, with no pretensions to scientific accuracy." Al-Sufi's work was, in the words of Ian Ridpath, "... the first scientific depictions of the Ptolemaic constellations, over 800 years after the Almagest was written."

Al-Sufi's original work is lost, but the Bodleian Library, Oxford hosts a copy that is believed to be written and illustrated by al-Sufi's son Ibn al-Ṣūfī 24 years after his fatherís death. Some scholars doubt the provenance, but still it is a remarkable treasure of astronomical history.

These drawings are somewhat faded. Of the two available for each constellation, we choose the one that was visibly in better condition. There are later, more colorful reproductions of al-Sufi's work (like the one we used in the headline), but here, we concentrate exclusively on screenshots from the online publication of the Bodleian Library.

Sources: Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath

The images are faint. Click on the pictures for larger images.

Andromeda Aquarius Aquilla Ara
Argo Narvis Aries Auriga
BoŲtes Cancer Canis Major Canis Minor
Capricornus Cassiopeia Centaurus Cepheus
Cetus Corona Australis Corvus Crater
Cygnus Delphinus Draco Equuleus
Eridanus Gemini Hercules Hydra
Leo Lepus Libra Ophiuchus
Orion Pegasus Perseus Pisces
Piscis Austrinus Sagitta Sagittarius Scorpius
Taurus Triangulum Ursa Major Ursa Minor
In 1985, Somalia issued a set of four stamps with illustrations from the Book of the Fixed Stars.
For a detailed description, see Ian Ridpath.
Aquilla Taurus Aries Orion

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