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A 16th-Century Astrolabe Positioned Under a Lucky Star

Published on , by Anne Doridou-Heim
Auction on 10 February 2023 - 14:00 (CET) - Salle 4 - Hôtel Drouot - 75009

This astrolabe weaves its golden thread on the roads of Renaissance Europe and expands the very limited corpus of Michael Piquer's instruments. The winds should be favorable.

European gilt brass astrolabe attributed to Michael Piquer, dated 1543, diam. 19.1... A 16th-Century Astrolabe Positioned Under a Lucky Star

European gilt brass astrolabe attributed to Michael Piquer, dated 1543, diam. 19.1 cm/7.5 in, h. 21.3 cm/ 8.3 in (without ring), thickness: 0.9 cm/0.35 in.
Estimate: €80,000/100,000

A rete, mater, plate, limb, womb, alidade, throne... but what are these things exactly? In fact, it is the vocabulary used by scientists to define the elements of an astrolabe, a calculating instrument invented by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus in the 2nd century BCE, to establish the relationship between the position of the stars and time. Perfected in the deserts by the Arabs who, for their religion, needed to know with precision the hours of sunrise and sunset, it then reached European countries where it continued to be developed thanks to the great discoveries. Let's come back to our unique and beautiful rete! A simplified representation of the sky, it depicts the positions of the major stars—26 here, each accompanied by its name, size and planetary symbol—and takes its name from the elaborate network of vessels and nerves in the human body, creating a beautiful aesthetic. The different winds are engraved on the limb, with Vutturnus, Boreas, Circius and the others sending forth a buoyant air. It is understandable that astrolabes have fascinated people for centuries and that they have gone from being useful objects to collector's items.

This is the fate of our astrolabe, which was discovered by an erudite and inquisitive count, prior to 1906 by chance during a visit to an antique dealer in Avallon, in Burgundy. Since then, after having been given to the family of the present owner, it was presented at a meeting of the Astronomical Society of France. The dynamic astronomer Camille Flammarion (1842-1925) was then its president. The object is described as "European" but advancements made in the study of astrolabes now allow us to go further and attribute it to the monk Michael Piquer. Six are known to be made by him, four of which are in public institutions, their characteristics—size, the thickness of the rete, stars indicated by small flames, similar lettering, a similar arrangement of the womb—are alike. All of this information, without being able to confirm that it was really executed by the Catalan monk, invites us to affirm that, at the very least, it was done under his supervision. Although little is known about this scholar, the study of Piquer’s instruments allows us to follow him not via the trail of the stars but on the roads of Europe. Undoubtedly to perfect his techniques, this enlightened thinker traveled to Paris where he improved the quality of his engraving. Piquer then went to the Spanish Netherlands where, together with the famous Gerard Mercator, he adopted the elegant italic script and realized the decorative importance of the throne. This instrument has many trump cards in its hand, and is ready to play its ultimate card in the sky!

Friday 10 February 2023 - 14:00 (CET) - Live
Salle 4 - Hôtel Drouot - 75009
Tessier & Sarrou et Associés
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