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Taking possession of astronomy: Frontispieces and illustrated title pages in 17th-century books on astronomy
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Art History.
2010 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The thesis is a survey of 291 frontispieces and illustrated title pages in European books on astronomy from the 17th century. It is a quantitative and qualitative survey of how motifs are related to consumption, identification and display. Elements in the motifs related to factual content as opposed to those aimed to raise the perceived value of astronomy are distinguished.

The quantitative study shows that astronomical phenomena (90 per cent) and scientific instruments (62 per cent, or as much as 86 per cent if only titles with illustrations occupying an entire page are considered) are the most common motifs to inform the reader of the genre. Besides these, a wide range of depicted features indicate the particularity of each title. Different means for raising the value of astronomy and its attributes are identified. The interplay of “real” or “credible” elements with fictional ones was used to attract attention, create positive associations and promote acquisition and reading. The motifs mainly promote delectation and erudition, although some attract attention through their deliberately enigmatic design and a few through fear. The survey determines prevalent settings (palaces, the theatre, gardens, the wilderness and the heavens), activities (skilful use of instruments, conversations or disputes), references to the ancients and heraldic components. They present both the self-image of astronomers at the time and ideal components that contain connotations of an enhanced reality. This self-image also contributed to the definition of normative values for astronomers in the 17th century. The affinities between painters and astronomers are examined.

In addition, an analysis of descriptions of frontispieces is undertaken, which shows that the user of the book was expected to devote considerable time to the frontispiece in order to understand all of its particular features and that the illustrations were suitable for display and learned digression.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien , 2010. , 400 p.
, Bidrag till Kungl. Vetenskapsakademiens historia, ISSN 0081-9956 ; 40
Keyword [en]
Frontispiece, illustrated title page, astronomy, 17th century, allegory, engraving, illustrated book
National Category
Art History
Research subject
Art History
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-38873ISBN: 978-91-7190-137-8OAI: diva2:317149
Public defence
2010-06-01, Beijersalen, Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien, Lilla Frescativägen 4A, Stockholm, 10:00 (Swedish)
Available from: 2010-05-10 Created: 2010-05-03 Last updated: 2014-12-30Bibliographically approved

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Elmqvist Söderlund, Inga
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