|Earth and the Skies over Nürnberg
|Albrecht Dürer mapped the stars of the northern and southern hemispheres and printed the first
printed star charts, which had been ordered by Johann Stabius in Nürnberg. Around 1515, he was
also the first to publish a perspective reproduction of the terrestrial globe, the "Stabiussche
Weltkarte." Perhaps most famously, the main part of the work of ethnic German Nicolaus
Copernicus was published in Nürnberg in 1543. But the city was the center of science even before
then, and teemed with people of great brilliance who all seemed to gaze skyward.
|It was prophetic. For 600 years, astronomy played a predominant role in the development of the old
city. The first globes were manufactured here, and the first accurate compasses. The first European
observatory was erected and offered public access so that rich and poor, gentleman and peasant,
scholar and farmer alike could all enjoy the excitement and drama of the night sky.
|Above is the ominous depiction of comets and the ill- fortune they were thought to bring. Speaking
of the Aurora Borealis on April 14, 1561, a Nürnberg paper told of a "dreadful apparition" of rods,
crosses and globes fighting among themselves in the morning sky till they fell from the sun down
upon the earth where they burned and wasted away with immense smoke. Its author warned:
|Solar events made the Nürnberg news, and it took little time for such happenings to be contemplated
and deciphered by wisemen and the clergy. It was also a domino effect, for through the
preoccupation with astronomy, many discoveries took place in mathematics and the sciences. Not
only was the city producing great minds, it was creating scientific tools of immense beauty.
|Johannes Müller, or Regiomontanus, matriculated in Vienna in 1450 as Johannes Molitoris de
Kunigsperg, the most important astronomer of the 15th century. Born to a mill keeper in a small
Frankonian town, he was sent to Leipzig to study at age twelve. In 1436, he attended the Universities
of Leipzig and then Vienna, where he studied with the celebrated astronomer George of Peurbach
(1423-61) who was also a Master at Vienna, and they two made observations together, for example,
they observed the planet Mars being two degrees off the place assigned to it and a lunar eclipse over
an hour late on the Tables.
|After Peurbach's death, Regiomontanus (Müller) went to Rome and searched libraries for Greek
manuscripts on mathematical and astronomical subjects in his travels around Italy, becoming fluent in
Greek. What manuscripts he could not acquire, he copied using a New Testament he'd written in
Greek as his guide. He finally could understood the whole of Ptolemy, and was able to complete the
"Epitome" of Peurbach by adding seven books to the six already written by his master.
|He continued his observations in Vienna and refuted the quadrature of the circle given by Cuse and
computed a calendar with the places of sun and moon, the eclipses and the dates of Easter for the
next thirty years. He spent four more years in Rome and then apparently spent the next three years
in Hungary under King Matthias Corvinus as custodian of the library abundant with treasures from
Constantinople and Athens. The ensuing Bohemian wars of the king, however, led Müller to look for
a quiet place where he could carry out his work, and he decided upon Nürnberg, then the center of
industry, intellect and commerce in southern Germany. In 1471, he wrote in a letter to a friend on 4
July 1471: "Quite recently I have made observations in the city of Nürnberg... for I have chosen it
as my permanent home not only on account of the availability of instruments, particularly the
astronomical instruments on which the entire science is based, but also on account of the great ease
of all sorts of communication with learned men living everywhere, since this place is regarded as the
center of Europe because of the journeys of merchants. "
|In the fall of 1471, he was welcomed to the city and furnished with an instrument shop, small
observatory and a printing office. The great comet of 1472 was observed during January and
February in such a way that its orbit could be calculated. He wrote details of his instruments in
Scipta and these, including dials, quadrants, safea, astrolabes, armillary astrolabe, torquetum and the
parallactic ruler. His observations of this comet, using his Jacob's staff, were accurate enough to
allow it to be identified with Halley's comet 210 years later.
|Müller's ideas of the motion of the Moon led him to make the important observation that the method
of lunar distances could be used to determine longitude at sea. It was many years, however, before a
degree of accuracy necessary for the method was developed. He described how the moon's position
can be used to determine longitude in the Ephemerides, for the years 1474-1506, with the positions
of the sun, moon, planets and the eclipses from 1475 to 1500 published on his printing press. This
guided Columbus to America and enabled him to predict the lunar eclipse of February 29, 1504.
Amerigo Vespucci also used Müller's Ephemerides to measure longitudes in the New World.
|The second and third parts of this book were first printed at Nürnberg by Müller and the printer
Erhard Ratdolt, a master at printing scientific works. Most importantly, Müller's own "Calendarium
Novum" was printed. He became the first publisher of this type of scientific literature which included
ancient, medieval and modern works. Müller's scientific activity in Nürnberg ended when Sixtus IV
called him to Rome to settle the reforming of the calendar. Müller was reportedly created Bishop of
Ratisbon, although he never occupied the episcopal chair. In Rome, towards the end of 1475, Müller
died at age forty.
|In the Epitome, Müller, seeing the need for a systematic account of trigonometry to support
astronomy, later wrote such a treatise and his book De triangulis omnimodis (1464) is a systematic
account of methods for solving triangles. When he was in Hungary, he computed two tables of
sines. The first computed in 1467 was Tables of directions which was based on sexagesimal
numbers, while in the following year in Buda he computed tables of sines to a decimal base.
|George Christoph and Marie Eimmart
|The citizens of Nürnberg needed a good place to watch the heavens and scientists needed a good
place to test their inventions. An observatory was the answer, and an artist accommodated their need.
George Christoph Eimmart, 1638-1705, was the founder of the first Nürnberg observatory. After
attending of the Regensburger Gymnasium, Eimmart went to Jena 1655 where he studied
mathematics, returning to Regensburg at the end of 1658. His sister Regina lived in Nürnberg with
her husband, Jacob Sandrart, who had an established fine-arts publishing house where he was an
etcher. Eimmart moved there to pursue his own work of etching and painting. Eimmart furnished an
observatory in autumn, 1678.
|In 1688, he had to close it for a time when French invasion threatened. When it reopened at the end
of the century, this was the only large observatory in Germany. The artistic work of Eimmart was
closely connected to the sky charts and maps, as well as his globes. Observatory, above
|His daughter, Maria, also developed a keen interest in astronomy as a child. She was taught
mathematics, Latin, French and mathematics as well as etching and drawing by her father. She
became an important aide to her father in the observatory. After the death of her father, the
observatory was purchased by the city, and they hired Johann Heinrich Mueller (1671-1731) as the
new director. Marie married him, but she died in childbirth one year later. Maria Clara Eimmart was
a capable astronomical observer, and between 1693 and 1698, she sketched about 250 scenes of the
moon. On May 12, 1706, she could observe the total solar eclipse from the observatory. Some her
astronomical paintings and 57 thick volumes of her father's work sadly ended up in Russia, although
some of her drawings are in the possession of the observatory in Bologna, Italy.
|Mechanical clocks and watches were wildly popular in Baroque Germany, but ornamental sundials in
fancy gardens were enjoyed, too, and the more complicated the better. Highly mathematical sundials
were designed in geometric shapes and plastered on everything from beer mugs to bird baths and
even put on gravestones. Nurnberg was a leader in the craze of the intricate Baroque garden with
their sundials, and some actually survive today.
|A crater on the moon was named after Eimmart by Johann Hieronymus Schroeter (1745-1816)
around 1800. The significance of Eimmart observatory, all but destroyed by Allied bombing, lies in
that it was the first public observatory in Nürnberg and hosted special celestial events for the
population and created great enthusiasm in astronomy. Some its assistants contributed vastly to
astronomy and geography.
|When the Greek scholar Cardinal Bessarion of Trebizond arrived in Vienna as papal legate to the
emperor, a whole world opened up to the men. Having changed to the Latin Rite, Bessarion
mastered the Latin language like his own, and began translating Ptolemy directly from the Greek.
Peurbach was also engaged in composing an epitome on Ptolemy's "Almagest." Neither of them was
able to accomplish his task alone. They agreed that Peurbach should accompany Bessarion to Italy,
together with Müller, but when Peurbach died in 1461 Müller promised to complete his work
"Epitome", the abridgement of Ptolemy's Syntaxis. This work, later used by Copernicus, Galileo and
others, was finished by 1463 and printed as the "Epitome of the Almagest" in 1496.
|His patron and co-worker Bernhard Walther's print shop, with the improved methods and types
designed by Müller, published several texts, including the first edition of the Disputationes contra
Cremonensia (c. 1475) and an astronomical poem of Manilius (1472-73). Purbach's Theoricae novae
planetarum, which is the third and last work in the book being described, was also printed. In this
work Purbach gave a rather detailed account of the theory of the planets, and pointed out "the
discrepancy between the views of Aristotle and those of Ptolemy."
|The cause of his death was possibly a pestilence in Rome caused by the Tiber overflowing its banks.
Many of his manuscripts and works were lost, in particular everything on the reform of the calendar.
Some works were published posthumously, including the five books on triangles and the quadrature
of the circle. Müller made important contributions to both trigonometry and astronomy.
|One of the old books which he found while he was in Venice, was an incomplete copy of
Diophantus's Arithmetica. He wrote to the mathematician Giovanni Bianchini in 1464 offering a
Greek translation of the text if he could find a complete copy. Nobody ever did, but while Müller
never did translate Diophantus's Arithmetica, and never found a complete version, this important
discovery by Müller marks the beginning of the Arithmetica becoming known in Europe.
|"God may send us a frightful punishment on account of our ungratefulness."
|All during the Renaissance and Baroque periods until 1786, Nurnberg was the creative design and
building center of sundials. Seventy three public sundials existed in the city. The keen interest in the
solar system did not abate for a long time. Georg Friedrich Kordenbusch (1731-1802) was educated
as a medical doctor but became teacher of mathematics and physics. He attempted in vain to
revitalize the Nürnberg Observatory, which had been torn down in 1751. In the early 1770s, he
became famous for issuing the second edition of Johann Leonhard Rost's Astronomisches Handbuch,
the first compendium of astronomy written in German. He also edited and translated some French
works (star maps, a description of globes, and an elementary book on cosmography). In 1790,
Kordenbusch was raised to the nobility. From the Toplerhaus in Nürnberg the physician
Kordenbusch first observed the planets with a Gregorian reflector.
|In 1796, the city of Nurnberg was occupied by the French army, and although this occupation lasted
only 14 days, they took 18 prominent citizens as hostages for ransom, Kordenbusch being among
them. They were taken near the Belgian border and it was not until the end of July 1797, he was able
to return to Nurnberg. Alas, in 1945 the Toplerhaus, along with the rest of ancient and venerable
Nürnberg was completely destroyed by an Allied air raid. It is ironic that its destruction would come
from the skies.
|One famous pupil of Regiomontanus was said to be Nürnberger Martin Behaim, who is believed to
have studied mathematics with him. Behaim, born around 1459, was the son of a wealthy merchant
and he took up the trade himself, travelling through much of Western Europe in search of textiles. He
traveled to Lisbon, Portugal sometime in his twenties and was welcomed by Portuguese King John
II. It is said that Behaim met Christopher Columbus here. Behaim's extensive knowledge impressed
the King of Portugal, and his mathematical and navigational skills earned him an appointment to the
King's council of mathematicians around 1483.
|Among Behaim's accomplishments were complex innovations and improvements to navigational
instruments such as conjoining the cross-staff apparatus which determined ship altitude to the sun
declension tables of Regiomontanus. He was knighted in the Portuguese Order of Christ by King
John II in 1484 and in 1485, he accompanied the cosmographer Diego Cam on a southbound
expedition to explore the West Coast of Africa. On the return voyage from Africa in 1486, the
expedition stopped in the Azores and Behaim stayed there for several years and married the daughter
of the governor.
|Here, he established a Flemish colony before returning to Nürnberg in 1490, when the city
commissioned him to create the Terrestrial Globe, the first known such globe to be made since those
of the ancient Greeks, for today's price of 75 dollars. Artists who worked to his specifications and it
took him a year to complete it. It was extensively decorated and contains 48 banners, 15 coats of
arms, zodiac symbols, miniature drawings of saints, kings, ships, animals, fish and even a mermaid
and a merman. His Globe was dubbed the Erdapfel (earth apple) by the Nürnberg townsfolk. His
work done, he then resumed his travels and returned to Portugal shorty after. He spent his later years
as an emisary to Belgium and the Netherlands, a position which necessitated traveling back and forth
from Portugal, and on one of these occasions, he was captured by the English and taken to England,
where he escaped and returned to Portugal. There he remained until his death in 1507. The globe
survives today, and is considered to be the oldest such artifact of its kind.
|Eimmart Observatory and the Toplerhaus in Nürnberg