The Great Comet of 1680
Friedrich Madeweis Celestial Print, Berlin: 1681
Great Comet
great comet

In frame (right) and detail of corner (above)

Great Comet framed
Friedrich Madeweis (1648-1705) (artist and engraver)
Cometa Ao MDCLXXX et LXXXI observ. a Friderico Madeweis Berolini Elevatio
poli 52 gr. 50’
[Comet Observed in the Year 1680 and 1681, Friedrich Madeweis, Berlin, Polar
Elevation 52 gr. 50’]
Berlin: 1681
Black and white etching
7.5 x 12.5 inches, image
9 x 13.75 inches, overall
8 x 12.5 inches mat opening
19.5 x 23.25 inches in burl frame
$2,900, framed

Celestial map showing the passage of the Great Comet of 1680 through a partial celestial chart of constellations. The comet is also depicted barreling across the sky at the top. The constellations are shown as figures according to classical mythology. In the upper right, a legend on a banner gives the title and describes the path of the comet between November 6, 1680 and January 23, 1681, when the “long trailing robe” of its tail disappears. In a rectangle below the drawing is a poetic sentiment apparently marveling at the phenomenon of comets which return periodically: “The hen of Rome gives birth to this egg anew; thus behold the birthing!” and in the lower right the path of the comet is shown across a small globe, rendered ovoid as opposed to spherical apparently to emphasize its egg-shaped path. Another example of this engraving is in the collection of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago (see References below).

The Great Comet of 1680 is sometimes referred to as Kirch’s Comet, after German astronomer Gottfried Kirch, who first observed it with a telescope in November 1680. It attracted much scientific interest and the greatest astronomers of the era studied its path to advance understanding of the workings of the universe. From the observational data of this comet, in 1681, Samuel Doerfel and Bernouilli independently concluded that comets are heavenly bodies moving in parabolas in relation to the sun. Isaac Newton, drawing upon the same information, showed in 1686 that comets are guided in their movements by the same principle that controls the orbits of the planets.

Friedrich Madeweis earned a master of arts degree at the University of Jena in 1665. He served as the headmaster of the famous Berlin Gymnasiums (high school) from 1672 to 1681. In 1681, he became postmaster of the national post office at Brandenburg, in order to develop the postal service. Madeweis had a large building constructed in Berlin after his plans called the Athenaeum Salomoneum, an academy for the study of mathematics, physics, nature, medicine, law, policy and statistics. This short-lived project was only open from 1702 to 1705.

Upper right legend: Cometa hic die VI Novembr Ao 1680 in arcu [Scorpio symbol] primum apparuit, postea per [Libra symbol] [Virgo symbol?] ad [Taurus symbol] / Taur / promotus, die 23 Jan 1681 praesente plenitunto imprimis, oculis nostris Sÿrma siste traxit, licet procul dubio caput ipsius, in aethere diminutu, adhuc remanserit. Hinc via Ipsius inter Triang. Boreale et pendentem Persei pedem continuanda, usquad interitum.

[Comet here in the time period from the 6th of November in the year 1680 first appearing in the arc of Scorpio, afterwards through Libra, Virgo[?] moving toward Taurus, especially present at a greater magnitude in the time period 23rd of January 1681, it stops dragging its long trailing robe, although at an uncertain distance the head itself, though in the sky it diminishes, thus far remains. From here its path is between the Northern Triangle and continues by Perseus’s foot, all the way till it dies out.]

Lower legend: Gallinam ROMAE hoc OVUM peperisse refertur; Sic parit ecce! SOLUM, quod parat ipse POLUS. [The hen of Rome gives birth to this egg anew; thus behold the birthing! Alone, whatever the Pole (or sky) itself produces.]

Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear. Various horizontal and vertical folds, as issued, possibly extracted from a book. Margins irregularly trimmed. Now in antique walnut burl frame with Baroque pierced gilt metal spandrels, and craquelure mat.

References:

“Friedrich Madeweis.” Halleseite.de. http://www.halleseite.de/geschichte/personen/madeweis.htm (13 April 2005).

“The Comet...” Adler Planetarium. 28 February 1997. http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/history/exhibits/comets/plate03.html (13 April 2005).

White, Andrew Dickson. A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1898. Chapter 4. Online at http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/White/signs/compromise.html (13 April 2005).