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Frontispiece For The First Publication of The Astronomical Works of Tycho Brahe

Finely engraved frontispiece for Tycho Brahe's Historia Coelestis ex libris commentariis manuscriptis observationum vicennalium, edited by Albert Curtz.

The image depicts four crowned Christian rulers, each holding a sceptre and a globus cruciger (cross-bearing orb). Cherubs at their feet support a celestial globe and a terrestrial globe. The cherubs across the top carry the Latin phrases "provide", "usurp", "receive", "publish", signifying the patronage provided at this time by kings and emperors to astronomers.  The four seated emperors are the most recent Holy Roman Emperors, from left to right, the Matthias (1557-1619), Ferdinand II (1578-1637), Ferdinand III (1578-1637) and Leopold I (1640-1715).

The image was engraved by master engraver Philipp Kilian for the first edition of Albert Curtz's masterfully edited publication of Tycho Brahe’s vast astronomical observations made between 1582 and 1601.  In manuscript form, these observations were the base of Johannes Kepler’s publication of the Tabulae Rudolphinae (1627), but Brahe's manuscript was not printed until Curtz prepared the present edition over 60 years after Brahe’s death.

Brahe, on his deathbed, had urged his assistant to published his work as soon as possible, but it remained unpublished until the Jesuit Albert Curtz (under the pseudonym Lucius Barrettus) edited them. Curtz's work had been planned and a prospectus published as early as 1656, but only appeared ten years later, with assistance from the Emperor Leopold I, who is therefore the last of the Habsburg rulers to figure in the handsome frontispiece.

This is one of several finely engraved plates, which include a portrait of Brahe and a depiction of his observatory at Uraniborg.


Curtz's Historia Coelestis is of the utmost rarity, with recent auction records for the book of nearly $100,000 and only 3 appearances at auction and de in the past 60 years.

This is the first example of the frontispiece we have seen on the market.