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Map, Celestial, Constellations, Aquila, Delphinus, Sagitta, from Uranographia Britannica, Antique Print, Bevis, 1786

$1,350

John Bevis (1695-1771) (after)
Tab XV [Aquila, Delphinus, Sagitta, and Vulpecula]
from Uranographia Britannica (Atlas Celeste)
[British Description of the Heavens (Celestial Atlas)]

John Neale, London: c. 1749-50, 1786
Hand-colored copperplate engravings
12.25 x 14.50 inches, ruled border
13.25 x 15.50 inches, overall
$1,350

A celestial chart of Aquila and surrounding constellations from the celebrated John Bevis atlas Uranographia Britannica. Aquila (The Eagle), Delphinus (The Dolphin), Sagitta (The Arrow), and a portion of Vulpecula (The Little Fox with Goose) are illustrated in the classical taste. The stars are shown in different sizes to indicate magnitude and are located within a numbered border to accurately show their positions. Many of the stars are labeled with Greek and Latin letters. The blue-shaded areas with irregular rounded edges that cross behind the constellations represent the Milky Way.

In Greek mythology, Aquila, the Eagle, is associated with various stories about the god Zeus. In the best known one, Zeus descends as the eagle to abduct the Trojan prince Ganymede to Olympus to serve as his cup-bearer. Ganymede is represented in the sky by the nearby constellation of Aquarius, which is not depicted in this plate. Astronomically speaking, the constellation is notable for its bright star Altair. Delphinus was seen by the ancient Greeks as the sky emblem of philanthropy, due to the dolphin’s devotion to their young. The arrow Sagitta figures in various tales as a weapon that killed the eagle of Jove (the Roman name for Zeus). It was also the arrow with which Apollo killed the Cyclops and the arrow of Cupid. Vulpecula, a fox and an adjacent goose, is a relatively modern constellation added to celestial maps in the late 17th century by the astronomer Johannes Hevelius.

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Description

This print was among a series of celestial charts designed in the mid 18th century by John Bevis, a British physician and scientist specializing in electricity and astronomy.  Bevis’ atlas of celestial engravings,  Uranographia Britannica, was announced for subscription in 1748. It was promoted as updating and improving the accuracy of information provided in earlier celestial atlases by Johannes Bayer (1603) and John Flamsteed (1729), 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 in 1731. Nonetheless, the charts are beautifully rendered as artist works, depicting the constellations according to classical mythology in a late Renaissance or early Baroque style.

Each print from this series was dedicated to one of the subscribers who initially underwrote the production of the work — individuals and learned societies from Britain and elsewhere in Europe. 51 plates had been engraved and printed with superb craftsmanship when the bankruptcy of the publisher, John Neale, brought an abrupt end to the project in 1750, an everlasting disappointment to Bevis, though he was eventually elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1765.  He died in 1771 prior to the publication of his work. In 1785, the existing plates for Uranographia Britannica were sold at an auction of his estate. They were issued posthumously in 1786, bound into sets by an anonymous entrepreneur under the title Atlas Celeste, with no title page or explanatory text and without 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 in the estate sale the anonymous seller did acquire equal numbers of all the prints (Kilburn et al).

Another Bevis celestial print, 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.

Dedication below print: To the Right Honourable George Lord Anson This Table is most humbly inscrib’d.

Condition: Generally very good, recently professionally cleaned and deacidified with only light remaining toning, wear, handling.

References:

Allen, Richard Hinckley. Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning. New York: Dover, 1963 reprint of 1899 ed. pp. 199, 350 and 473.

Bellingham, David. An Introduction to Greek Mythology. Secaucus, New Jersey: Chartwell Books, 1989. pp. 115-116, 119.

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.

 

Additional information

Century

18th Century