Three Bevis Celestial Prints
from Uranographia Britannica (Atlas Celeste)

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Bevis Celestial Detail Bevis Hydra, Corvus and the Crater

Hydra, Corvus and the Crater and details

Bevis Celestial Detail
Bevis Cancer Bevis Cancer

Cancer (The Crab) and details

Bevis Cancer
Lyra Lyra

Lyra and details

John Bevis (1695-1771) (after)
Hydra, Corvus and the Crater, Tab. XLVI
Cancer, Tab. XXV

Lyra, Tab. VIII
from Uranographia Britannica (Atlas Celeste)
[British Description of the Heavens (Celestial Atlas)]

John Neale, London: c. 1749-50 & issued for sale 1786
Hand-colored copperplate engravings
12.25 x 14.75 inches each, platemark
14 x 16.5 inches to 14 x 18 inches, overall
Sold, please inquire as to the availability of similar items.

British celestial prints showing the constellations well delineated in pictorial style based on figures in classical mythology as identified by Ptolemy, and with later identified constellations of the southern hemisphere comprised of scientific and animals. These prints were designed in the 1740s by John Bevis, a British physician and astronomer who made important celestial observations and was eventually elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1765. Bevis' images, based on the earlier celestial atlases by Johannes Bayer (1603) and John Flamsteed (1729), surpass both those works in the quality of the artwork and scientific accuracy. Each print from this series is dedicated to one of the subscribers who initially underwrote the production of the work, individuals and learned societies from Britain and elsewhere in Europe. Apparently no expense was spared in the production, as evidenced by the superb craftsmanship. Although printed around 1749-1750, they were not issued until 1786, many years after Bevis’ death.

Cancer: The zodiac constellation of Cancer (the Crab) is featured, surrounded by (clockwise from right) Gemini, Canis Minor, Hydra and Leo. Dedication: "To the Reverend Francis Hooper D. D. Senior Fellow of Trinity Colledge Cambridge. This Table is most humbly inscrib’d."

Hydra, Corvus and the Crater: The three constellations otherwise known as the Female Watersnake, the Crow and the Beaker are depicted above a small portion of Centaurus. Dedication: "To Sir James Creed Knight. F. R. S. This Table is most humbly Inscib’d."

Lyra: Lyra is portrayed here as an eagle holding a lyre, as it was sometimes visualized in the 18th century. At the tip of the eagle’s beak is the bright star Vega. To the left is a portion of the constellation Cygnus (the Swan) and to the left a portion of Hercules. Dedication: "To the Right Honourable Philip Earl Stanhope &c. This Table is most humbly inscrib’d."

Bevis’ atlas was announced for subscription in 1748 as Uranographia Britannica, updating and improving the accuracy of information provided in earlier atlases by Bayer and Flamsteed, and with plates designed to be easy to consult at the telescope. The charts also incorporated discoveries by astronomers such as Hevelius and Halley, and included several nebulae and celestial objects for the first time in a publication, including the Crab Nebula, discovered by Bevis himself. 51 plates had been engraved and printed when the bankruptcy of the publisher, John Neale, brought an abrupt end to the project in 1750, an everlasting disappointment to Bevis.

In 1785, the existing plates for Uranographia Britannica were sold at an auction of his estate, and the following year re-emerged bound into sets by an anonymous entrepreneur under the title Atlas Celeste, with no title page or explanatory text, nor any mention of Bevis or Neale. The atlas was rare, even when first published. As of 2003, only 23 sets were known, not all of them with the full complement of 51 plates, probably because the 1786 seller did not have equal numbers of all the prints (Kilburn et al).

Another Bevis celestial, from the collection of the George Glazer Gallery, appears in the book You Are Here by Katharine Harmon, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004, p. 70.


Kilburn, Kevin, Jay M. Pasachoff and Owen Gingerich. “The Forgotten Star Atlas: John Bevis’s Uranographia Brittanica.” Journal of the History of Astronomy 34 (2003): 125-144.