A magnificent hand-colored engraved celestial plate from "the most elaborate atlas of stars and constellations published to date and perhaps the last great star atlas." - David Rumsey
Impressive celestial engraving from the large folio 1801 first edition of Johann Elert Bode's Uranographia.
The plate depicts the constellations Pegasus, Delphinus, and Equuleus. Pegasus is composed of the Great Square, one of the most easily recognizable shapes in the sky. The constellation was known to many civilizations; in Greek myth, Pegasus was born of Medusa when she was vanquished by Perseus. Pegasus was later involved in the slaying of the chimera by Bellerophon. Bellerophon instructed Pegasus to take him to Mount Olympus, where, in some tellings, both were slain by Zeus.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of stars are depicted on the plate, with their levels of brightness classified and indicated by a system of symbols. There are approximately seven levels of brightness indicated.
Johann Elert Bode (1747-1826) was born in Hamburg. His first publication was on the solar eclipse, August 5, 1766. This was followed by an elementary treatise on astronomy entitled Anleitung zur Kenntniss des gestirnten Himmels, the success of which led to his being summoned to Berlin in 1772 for the purpose of computing ephemerides on an improved plan. In 1774, Bode started the well-known Astronomisches Jahrbuch, a journal that ran to 51 yearly volumes.
Bode became Director of the Berlin Observatory in 1786, where he remained until 1825. There he published the Uranographia in 1801, a celestial atlas that aimed both at scientific accuracy in showing the positions of stars and other astronomical objects, as well as the artistic interpretation of the stellar constellation figures. The Uranographia marks the climax of an epoch of artistic representation of the constellations. Later atlases showed fewer and fewer elaborate figures until they were no longer printed on such tables.
Bode also published a small star atlas, intended for astronomical amateurs (Vorstellung der Gestirne). He is credited with the discovery of Bode's Galaxy (M81). Comet Bode (C/1779 A1) is named after him; its orbit was calculated by Erik Prosperin. From 1787 to 1825 Bode was director of the Astronomisches Rechen-Institut. In 1794, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In April 1789, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.