Sunday, December 25, 2011

Cosmographia Claudii Ptolomaei Alexandrini (15th Century)

Introduction to Europe Maps, part I: Ireland (Ibernie Insvle) and Great Britain (Albionis Insvle).

This cosmography was commissioned by Nicolaus Germanus in 1465 and dedicated to the Pope Paul II. Nicolaus Germanus (1420-1490) was a german cartographer, who lived temporally as a monk of Benedictine order, possibly on the Reichenbach Monastery, and later on a Benedictine Monastery close to Florencia, Italy ¿?. His works were of great value in diffusing the knowledges of Ptolemy's Geography. Apart of this Cosmography, I know that in Modena (Italy), the Bibliotheca Estensis has another latin translation of the Geography of Ptolemy, probably still not digitized. Another cosmography is also hosted at Lenox Library in New York. The most important characteristic of this Cosmography is that Nicolaus, instead of adhering to the flat projection of Ptolemy, chose what is known as the “Donis” projection system, that he invented, in which the parallels of latitude are equidistant, but meridians are made to converge towards the pole. This projection system is also known as “trapezoid projection”. Another interesting characteristic in this compilation is the introduction of updated maps for Spain, Italy and the Northern countries. 

Spain and Portugal. Nicolaus updated the official map for Spain with high detail (main cities and towns)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Audubon's “Birds of America” (19th Century)

Blue jay specimen, eating other birds' eggs

John James Audubon (1785-1851) was a French-American naturist who developed a particular -and questionable, at least under my point of view- method for representing birds with extremely detailed illustrations in their natural habitats. This particular method consisted in killing the birds first with a very fine shot, using a special rifle to avoid damage the bodies. After that, he used wires and rigid metal bars to accommodate the bird in a natural position. This was a meticulous work: for a major specimen like an eagle, he would spend up to four 15-hour days, preparing, studying, and drawing it. His paintings of birds are set true-to-life in their natural habitat. He often portrayed them as if caught in motion, especially feeding or hunting. With the edition of his "Birds of America", published in 1842, he earned more than 30.000 dollars and around 1000 subscribers. With this money he bought an estate on the Hudson river, and for nearly 60 years a tract of land in upper Manhattan was known as Audubon Park...
Google Doodle published on on April 26th this year to celebrate J.J. Audubon 226th birthday

Audubon soon reached a high popularity: King George IV was an avid fan of Audubon's pictures. Was ellected as fellow by the London's Royal Society -second north american at Royal Society after Benjamin Franklin-. Charles Darwin quoted Audubon in his "On the Origin of Species". And continues in our days: last December 2010, a copy of "Birds of America" was sold at a Sotheby's auction for $11.5 million. On 26 April this year, Google celebrated his 226th birthday by displaying a special Google Doodle dedicated to J.J. Audubon.

J.J. Audubon with his special rifle, painting by John Syme

Yellow crowned night heron and little blue heron. This painting now hangs in the US White House.
Rough legged hawk
White pelican
Snowy owl

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ars moriendi ("The Art of Dying"), 15th Century

Demons tempt the dying man with crowns (a medieval allegory to earthly pride) under the disapproving gaze of Mary, Christ and God.

Believe it or not, this codex provides protocols and procedures for a good death, explaining how to die well according to Christian precepts of the late Middle Ages. Hard to believe, but has an explanation: this amazing codex was written under influence and historical context of the effects of the Black Death which was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history caused by the bacteria “Yersinia Pestis”. Consequence: around 40% of total Europe population died in less than 2 years, between 1348 and 1350. Author of this book is unknown, theories point to a Dominican friar in Germany.
The book has the following chapters: 1) First chapter explains that dying has a good side, and serves to console the dying man that death is not something to be afraid of. 2) Second chapter outlines the five temptations that beset a dying man, and how to avoid them (lack of faith, despair, impatience, spiritual pride and avarice). 3) Third chapter lists the seven questions to ask a dying man. 4) Fourth chapter expresses the need to imitate Christ's life. 5) Fifth chapter addresses the friends and family, outlining the general rules of behavior at the deathbed. 6) Sixth chapter includes appropriate prayers to be said for a dying man.

Appropriate prayers to be said for a dying man (6th Chapter)
Representation of avarice temptation

Sunday, December 4, 2011

“Tashrih al-badan” (Anatomy of the body, 14th Century)

The venous system, with figure drawn frontally and the internal organs indicated

Mansur ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Yusuf ibn Ilyas, “Mansur ibn Iiyas”, descended from a Shiraz family of scholars and physicians. His illustrated treatise, “Anatomy of the human body” often called “Mansur's Anatomy” consists of an introduction followed by 5 chapters on the 5 main systems of the body: bones, nerves, muscles, veins and arteries; each illustrated with a full-page diagram. The manuscript was a total new for me, as I always thought that Qur’an has severe restrictions regarding human representations. Indeed, it has, especially in Sunni Islam (representation of all living beings).
The Qur’an condemns idolatry and uses the Arabic term musawwir ("maker of forms," or artist) as an epithet for God. The belief is that the creation of living forms is unique to God, and this includes also representations. I found several references on the internet regarding figural representation in Islamic Art (I recommend the explanations given in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, link is here) and after my investigation I can’t conclude a significant advance about why Mansur decided to illustrate human body in his treatise. I know that other Hakims in Persia, during the Islamic period, strictly observed Qur’am when developing their advances on medicine. My investigation continues, at least to try to understand this exception.

Human skeleton, viewed from behind with the head hyperextended so that the face looks upward

Muscle figure, shown frontally, with extensive text denoting muscles

The Persian contribution to medicine was remarkable during the medieval Islamic period. One of the main roles played by medieval Persian Hakims (doctors or practitioners) in the scientific field of medicine was the conservation, and development of ideas and knowledge based on ancient civilizations, with continuous references to Greek philosophy. Medicine development was also intense during the pre-islamic period, from a practical point of view even: the archaeological case study of a 13-year old girl in south-east Iran indicated that she had cranial surgery to take apart a piece of her skull bone (due to a severe hydrocephaly) and she survived the surgery, this happened during the 3rd century BC. Anesthetic practices are also well known during 10th Century in Persia.

Most famous medical scientific or Hakim during this age in ancient Persia was Ibn Sina, better known in occident as Avicena or Avicenna. He made astute observations and experimentations and wrote around 40 treatises about medicine. His master piece was “The Canon of medicine” (the complete digital facsimil of this treatise has been a target for me during the last years). Other Hakims with significant contributions to medicine science were Fakhr al-din, and Muhammad ibn Zakariya.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Original manuscript of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (19th Century)

The British Library best loved treasure: original manuscript version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. Lewis carroll was the “pen-name” of Charles Dogdson, Oxford Mathematician mainly specialized on algebra, geometry, and social applications (see Dogdson method for democracy elections) with brilliant works and models related to cryptography. He also developed an intense activity on the fields of photography and literature. There’s a complete bio on Wikipedia link (here), so again I’ll not extend about his life details… my big surprise arrived when I discovered how Lewis Carroll started this tale: he simply improvised the story one summer's day in 1862 giving a boat trip to Alice and Edith Liddell, the young daughters of the Dean of his college. The ten-year-old Alice was so entranced that she begged him to write it down for her, and he did it. Alice Pleasance Liddell finally received the manuscript on her next birthday, with around 90 pages including 37 illustrations.

The real Alice (Alice Liddell), photo by Charles Dogdson

After this, Mr. Dogdson decided to publish the tale, and from this point the history is well known. He completed the sequel with “Through the Looking-Glass”, and also wrote the poems "The Hunting of the Snark" and "Jabberwocky".

...she went on growing and growing and very soon had to kneel down...
The delicious legal discussion with the Queen...
Alice with the white -splendidly dressed- rabbit
In front of the door... what to do?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"The Emperor’s Astronomy" (16th Century)

The “Emperor’s Astronomy” (Petrus Apianus, 1495-1552) is one of the great masterpieces of sixteenth-century printing, and also one of the top-ten in my personal digital collection. I found the codex a couple of months ago, when I was looking for volvelles (or wheel chart, which is a paper slide chart with rotating parts used mainly in ancient astronomy treatises, introduced by Persian astronomer Abu Rayhan Biruni).
I’ll not extend on Petrus Apianus BIO, Wikipedia has a relatively detailed article here. As remarkable fact, Apianus became a favourite scientific of Emperor Charles V through his work and produced also some well known treatises like the “Cosmographicus liber” and other works with variations and studys of Pascal’s triangle, collections of volvelles, and the first known depiction of Bedouin constellation.
Regarding the “Emperor’s Astronomy”... Most of the Volvelles in the codex are used –based on Ptolemaic system- to provide a remarkably accurate graphical calculation of a planet’s position. There is even one for calculating the longitude of Mercury, which contains nine printed parts plus a complex hidden infrastructure to allow movement around four separate axes. Throughout the initial part of his book, Apianus gives detailed instructions for the operation of the volvelles, using as his examples the birth dates of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and  his brother Ferdinand I, the dedicatees. But the most curious volvelle is used… for finding the hour of conception from the time of birth and the phase of the moon!!
The second part of the Astronomicum Caesareum deals primarily with lunar eclipses and five comets observed by Apianus in the 1530s. One of them is the one now known as Halley’s Comet. There are 93 known survived copies of this treatise around the world. In 1985 a copy of the Astronomicum Caesareum was auctioned for 80,000 dollars.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The various and ingenious machines of Captain Agostino Ramelli (16th Century)

Agostino Ramelli was an Italian engineer who significantly contributed to water wheels, mills (for grain and others), cranes, and jacking devices development during 16th century. His treatise “Le diverse et artificiose machine del Capitano Agostino Ramelli” -The various and ingenious machines of Captain Agostino Ramelli- had a great impact in the field of mechanical engineering. About his BIO, he served in the Army of Giacomo de Medici where he took contact with engineering disciplines. After a couple of years he realized about mathematics and geometry as an important tool for engineers and artists, and started his career as inventor.

Captain Agostino Ramelli

Wikipedia has a very poor (¿?) article here about Agostino Ramelli, with a curious reference as a world wide web precursor due to his invention called “book wheel” or “reading wheel” which is basically a device designed to allow one person to read a variety of books in one location, simply turning a huge vertical or horizontal wheel where the books are located.
This treatise is a fine example of the exquisite work of sixteenth-century printers and engravers. Printed in folio format, thus allowing great detail to be placed in the numerous engraved plates, which a total of 195. Another particularity is the fact that was printed in French and Italian.

The... world wide web service precursor? Why don't we ask Mr. Berners-Lee's opinion?

Grain mill

Heavy duty crane example

Military application (deffense breaking)

Self explained... Ramelli has more than 5 different types of screw jack devices in his treatise

Water wheel (human action)

Water wheel (water action)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

19th Century "Trattato di fortificazione e d'artiglieria" (Military Architecture and Artillery treatise)

Another military art jewel, a 19th century rare manuscript about fortifications, bastions and citadels architecture with a treatise about artillery and ballistics, all in one. Written in Italian with elegant calligraphy, has around 30 detailed full page illustrations and starts with an introduction of geometrics (basics rules to erect pentagons, hexagons, heptagons, etc that are used later to design fortifications, most of them by the sea or close to rivers). This manuscript has extraordinary similarities to the other military architecture treatise I posted last October (by Spanish Captain Cristobal de Rojas), named Theory and Practice of Fortifications.

Unfortunately, don’t have author’s name. I’ll update this post if my investigation goes further. I recommend a complete an amazing web page about classical military architecture (forts, arms & armour…): 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

15th Century Medicine treatise (or the importance of urine)

Urine sample color inspection
This manuscript from 15th century is a compilation about medicine texts.

It has a complete collection about urine characteristics in order to diagnose human diseases, an authentic “medieval urine analysis guideline”. This parameter was one of the most important medical indicator for centuries, as human body was considered sacred for main religions and open surgery was not allowed. There’s a very nice chapter in Noah Gordon best-seller “The Physician” in which Avicena (Abu Ali at Husain Ibn Abdullah Ibn Sina) explains urine importance during a medicine class at the Madraza in Isfahan.
Second extraordinary characteristic for this manuscript is the fact that contains a collection of detailed “wound man” illustrations. This kind of representations, first appeared in European surgical texts during middle ages, laid out schematically the various wounds a warrior or knight might suffer during battles, with accompanying texts stating treatments for the various different injuries.
MaOther examples of “wound man” medical manuscripts are “Fasciculus Medicinae” by Johannes of Ketham (Venice, 1492) and “Fieldbook of wound surgery” by Hans von Gersdorff (Strasbourg in 1519). See some examples (wikipedia) here.