Celestial Images: Antiquarian Astronomical Charts and Maps from the Mendillo Collection

January 15 — March 9, 2007

Celestial Images celebrated the golden age of astronomical charts. Some of the world’s earliest artistic images, illustrations of cosmologies and heavenly phenomena, entered into a new and lively phase at the time of the Renaissance. The invent ion of printing in the fifteenth-century improved the means of disseminating scientific knowledge; advances in astronomy in the sixteenth and seventeenth-centuries led to new information to be portrayed. Printed astronomical charts of surprising accuracy and delicate beauty resulted from this fortuitous conjunction. And celestial cartographers combined their scientific quest with a keen aesthetic sense—each chart had to be beautiful to look at, as well as be a repository of information. Indeed, they celebrated knowledge.

Tucked away in libraries, museums and private collections, however, are splendid remnants of that bygone era. Assembled here from the Mendillo Collection of antiquarian astronomical charts and maps are examples of some of the finest celestial cartography created. There are star charts (maps of the constellations and the full celestial sphere), charts of planetary systems (cosmologies), and charts of celestial phenomena (such as nebulae, comets, and eclipses). Together they pay homage to a time when simple systems explained the Universe and humankind held friendly commerce with the skies. The exhibit ion was organized by the Boston University Art Gallery.