Andreas Cellarius (1656-1702) From: Atlas Coelestis seu Harmonia Macrocosmica Amsterdam: Schenk and Valk, 1708 Hand-colored copperplate engravings 32” x 36 1/2” framed
In addition to their lavish aesthetic appeal, the celestial charts of Andreas Cellarius comprise the most sweeping, ambitious project in the history of celestial cartography, one which also illustrates the historical tensions of the time. Cellarius’ maps present the evolution of the field of astronomy from ancient times until his own. In his distinctive visual language, Cellarius portrayed the often-conflicting theories that prevailed. In addition to the relatively obscure notions of Tycho Brahe and Schiller, Cellarius’s charts track the theories of Ptolemy, dating from the 2nd century AD, and Copernicus’s 16th-century challenge to the venerable ancient astronomer.
Andreas Cellarius’ project was not devoid of political motivation. Up to his time of artistic activity, the Netherlands had been the unquestioned center of scientific discovery, and Dutch mapmakers had reigned supreme above all others. In the early 18th century, Louis XV of France sought to bring his country to the forefront of science, and by association, to imply political dominance. His efforts led to great competition between France and the Netherlands, and Cellarius’ sweeping project was an attempt to thwart French attempts completely. In some cases, Cellarius incorporated French elements into his maps, like acanthus leaves which can be seen often on French furniture of the period. In this way, he attempted to use French visual elements more skillfully than they themselves could.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, Dutch cartographers reigned supreme in their field. Cellarius’ work remains a landmark of the Golden Age of Exploration, combining great artistic beauty with scientific documentation. The vibrant hues, spanning the color spectrum, give amazing animation to the images, and the skies appear to come alive with bright figures.