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A Russian celestial chart showing Perseus holding the head of Medusa..
Plate IV from Sozvi︠e︡zdīi︠a︡ predstavlennyi︠a︡ na XXX tabilt︠s︡akh s opisanīem onykh i rukovodstvom k udobnomu ikh otyskanī i︠u︡ na nebi︠e︡ sostavlennym dli︠a︡ uchebnykhi︠e︡ zavedenīĭ i li︠u︡biteleĭ astrognozīi. by Kornelius Reissig. 1829 Geography and Map Division.

Constellations in Bronze

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Above is an image of the constellation Perseus holding the head of Medusa, famous for her serpentine hair.  This chart is from a Russian celestial atlas published in 1829.  I became aware of this unusual atlas while searching for new acquisitions for the collections of Geography and Map Division.  This led me to learn more about it.  The atlas is significant because it was the first published Russian celestial atlas.  It is also rare.  In addition to the copy held at the Library of Congress only three other copies are known to exist in the United States.  They are held at the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering and Technology in Kansas City, the Pennsylvania State University Library and the Memorial Library at the University of Wisconsin.  The atlas was acquired for the collections of Geography and Map Division as a James Madison Council purchase in 2012.  The Madison Council is a philanthropic organization that helps build the collections of the Library of Congress.  The atlas held in the Geography and Map Division has been scanned in full and may be viewed here.

The title roughly translates to Presentation of Constellations in 30 tables with Description and Guide to finding them conveniently in the Sky.  The atlas contains a total of 30 celestial charts, but many of the constellations are no longer recognized by the International Astronomical Union.  The engraved celestial charts appear to be printed in gold with a black background.  Tests performed within the Library of Congress Preservation Directorate indicate the charts were printed with bronze lead powder rather than gold.  Holes were pierced on the charts and covered with transparent paper.  The principal stars shine through when the charts are held up to the light.  In another published version of the atlas, the constellations were printed in black on a white background.  The format and design of the constellations were based on the tradition of British astronomer John Flamsteed who compiled the Catalogus Britannicus, a catalog of 3000 stars.

Featured below are examples of two other constellations from the atlas, Pegasus the winged horse and Gemini the twins.

Plate III.
Plate XIII.
Plate XVI.
Plate XVI.

A Russian astronomer named Kornelius Reissig prepared the atlas for amateur astronomers and students.  Reissig was born in Germany in 1781 and moved to Russia at the age of 29.  He served as the director of Russia’s Military Academy in St. Petersburg and as an associate member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In addition to his occupation as an astronomer, he was also a mathematician and artist.  He was a professor of astronomy and trigonometry in St. Petersburg and headed a workshop that produced instruments used by the Russian military.  Some of the instruments included telescopes, barometers and astrolabes, a device used in navigation to predict the positions of the sun, moon and stars.  Reissig was interested in promoting art education.  He formed a graphic studies program at the St. Petersburg Practical Technological Institute.  Students enrolled in the program were trained in both artistic and technical drawing.

Nachalo litografii v Rossii, 1816-1818; k 125-letii︠u︡ russkoĭ litografii.
A lithograph of Kornelius Reissig by Johan-Christ Roeder (1772-1831) from Nachalo litografii v Rossii, 1816-1818; k 125-letii︠u︡ russkoĭ litografii. by A.F. Korostin, 1943, Library of Congress.

I recommended this atlas for the Library’s holdings because of its rarity and value as the first published Russian celestial atlas.  This unique atlas bound in tooled red leather is an important addition to the extensive collection of celestial maps, atlases and globes at the Library of Congress.

Comments (3)

  1. If you make these as large square silk scarfs, I would buy one!

  2. Hi Cynthia,

    This was great! I have lots of questions about LC’s copy, which is the only one I could identify printed in black and gold, and in the oblong format. I’d be interested to know more about the tooling on the covers – could it be a presentation copy to the Russian imperial family? We have some Romanoff imperial bindings here at Linda Hall, and the description sounds like it might fit.

    Keep up the good work!

    Jason W. Dean
    Vice President for Special Collections
    Linda Hall Library
    Kansas City, Missour

  3. Good morning Cynthia l have been in love with these maps since l saw them and have made some artwork with them l would like to share with you. What a treat to read your text.
    Many thanks.

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