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The Aga Khan Museum: Metalwork - Nasrid, 14th century CE  Place your mouse over the image
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Object name
Planispheric Astrolabe

Al-Andalus, probably Toledo

Nasrid, 14th century CE

Almohad, Nasrid

Materials and technique
Engraved copper alloy inlaid with silver

Ø 13.5 cm

Accession number


Everything about this astrolabe indicates that it came from Spain: the rete (ankabut, or “spider”), representing part of the celestial coordinate system; the fixed stars form a network ornamented with openwork, the line of which is characteristic of Maghribin and Andalusian instruments. Indeed, on the ecliptic circle, which bears the names of the zodiacal constellations in Latin and Arabic, the cut-outs are in the form of half quatrefoils; they end in three openwork rings and a long curved point. The point indicates the exact position of the star whose name is engraved on the base in Arabic and Latin; other star names are inscribed on the outer circle and the segment of the median circle (equator). There are four tympani, each bearing a projection of the celestial coordinates onto the given terrestrial coordinates. Three of them, which date back to the first phase of the instrument’s history, are for latitudes ranging from Jerusalem to the north of Paris. While many astrolabes made in al-Andalus during the eleventh through fifteenth centuries have been preserved, only five astrolabes from pre-fifteenth-century Christian Spain are extant. Four of them are from Catalonia. This one does not come from there, and furthermore is the only one with inscriptions in Arabic, Latin and Hebrew, the latter in the form of scratches, more than engravings, on one of the tympani. The ring topping the openwork “throne” (kursi) bears an Arabic inscription: “Its owner [is] the poor Mas'ud confident in Him who should be adored.” Moreover, the last tympan, which probably dates to the second phase of execution of the astrolabe, is marked 'Ardh al-Jaza’ir (latitude of Algiers or the Balearic Islands); on the back is a tympanum corresponding to the latitude of Mecca, which is not mentioned by name. It is possible that the inscriptions on the ring and the last tympanum were done by the same hand, namely that of Mas'ud. On the back, the centre of the mater bears a double shaded square and, on the circumference, the signs of the zodiac in Arabic (to the outside) and the names of the solar months (to the inside), in inlaid and engraved silver cartouches. The inlaid silver cartouches are unique on a western astrolabe. In any case, there are a number of mistakes in the Arabic, which is probably evidence of a vernacular Arabic - and therefore, of the survival of Arabic in Spain long after the Reconquista.

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