Charting the Heavens: Hyginus's On Astronomy

This splendid manuscript of Hyginus's Latin poem, one of the treasures of the Library's Spencer Collection, is an example of the appreciation of classical astrology in humanistic circles in Padua in the early Renaissance. Most of the miniatures are by Giovanni Vendramin, one of the most important Paduan illuminators of his time; the others, which are not as artistically refined, are by the Douce Master. Vendramin makes subtle variations in his colors and methods of representation in different parts of the manuscript in order to give a lively varietas to his images, and gradually he transforms the dynamism of his style of the early 1470s into the more restrained, soft manner of his mature style. The scribe was Francesco Buzzacarini, a friend of Giovanni Marcanova, Bernardo Bembo, and Bartolomeo Sanvito, and he may have written the manuscript for his own use. The iconography of the constellations has a quasi-antique character typical of the Italian Renaissance, including the all'antica style of the nude figures. The images appear within the text, in a blue surround that indicates the sky and adds spatial depth. Those framed with a rope ending in red tassels, such as the constellation of Arctophylax, have an extraordinary stage-like effect. The lively representations of the mythological figures appear clothed like Florentines of the 14th century.

Written in the first century C.E., Hyginus's De astronomia describes the twelve constellations of the zodiac and the twenty-six of the north and south hemispheres. In addition, the poem narrates the myths of the gods and heroes whom the ancients of the Greco-Roman world believed they saw embodied in the constellations.


Gaius Julius Hyginus. De astronomia [On Astronomy]. Manuscript on vellum, written by Francesco Buzzacarini; illuminated by Giovanni Vendramin and the Douce Master. Padua, 1475-80.
The New York Public Library, Spencer Collection.


More Images from Hyginus's On Astronomy

Related Publication: The Splendor of the Word: Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts at The New York Public Library

Exhibition Brochure: The Splendor of the Word: Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts at The New York Public Library

About the Spencer Collection