Leiden University Library - Drawing Riccioli 1633

Leiden University is the oldest university in the Netherlands. It was founded in February 1575, as a gift from William of Orange to the citizens of Leiden who had withstood a long siege by the Spaniards. It was the first university in the Netherlands where freedom of belief and religion was practised. This is reflected by the university’s motto, 'Praesidium Libertatis' or Bastion of Liberty.

The University’s website says: "Remaining faithful to its historical mission, Leiden offers outstanding international students an intellectually exciting learning environment with high academic standards. Rather than concentrating on knowledge transfer, the focus is on debate and critical thinking whereby students' abilities to think independently are greatly stimulated. Leiden offers students academic, personal and professional development and enables them to form international networks in the student-friendly and convenient environment of the historical city of Leiden."

The Library of the University is of course very sizeable.

We are showing this image by kind courtesy of the Leiden University Library.


Item: Drawing Riccioli 1633 - 'Earth as an immovable centre of the universe'


In earlier days it was presumed, based on the views and writings of Plato, Aristotle and Ptolemy, that the earth was the centre of the whole universe. The sun, stars and planets revolved around the earth. This was also the opinion of the Roman Catholic Church. Gradually other opinions emerged, with serious opposition. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) is considered the founder of the heliocentric hypothesis. This hypothesis stated that the sun was the centre of the solar system and that the planets revolved around it. In the beginning the Church had no official position in concerns to this. Nevertheless, because of the conflict with the prevailing doctrine, Copernicus had serious hesitations about announcing this hypothesis.

Galileo Galilei’s (1564-1610) observations proved that earth orbited the Sun and lent support to the heliocentric model. Now the Church reacted. The works of Copernicus were placed on the list of forbidden books. Galileo was brought before a church court in 1632. He renounced his assertions and was condemned to life imprisonment in his house.

In connection to this, we see the drawing below with the Divine Name in Hebrew at the top. The Jesuit Giovanni Battista Ricciloi (1598-1671) was assigned the task of declaring and protecting the position of the Church in this matter. His book 'Almagestum Novum' and the cover page drawing, engraved by F. Curtus, made the position very clear.

The explanation of the drawing is given below.


Giovanni Battista Riccioli, Almagestum novum, astronomiam veterem novamque complectens, observationibus aliorum, et propriis novisque theorematibus, problematibus ac tabulis promotam, in tres tomos distributam [... Tomus primus.] Bononiae, ex typographia haeredis Victorij Benatij, 1651. -- (673 A 12)



The following persons and elements are depicted:

The giant Argus: he can be seen on the left hand side with a telescope in his left hand. In Greek mythology, Argus Panoptes or Argos was a giant with a hundred eyes. Because of the eyes Argus was the most suitable person to practise astronomy. Rolling out of his mouth are the words "Videbo caelos tuos, opera digitor[um] tuor[um]" ("I shall see Your heaven, the works of Your fingers” - Psalm 8 verse 3).

A female figure: on the left side, considered to be Astronimia. Her dress and the plates on her legs are strewn with stars. Her belt is decorated with the signs of the zodiac. She speaks the words: "Non inclinabitur in saeculum saeculi" ("He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved” - Psalm 104, verse 5). Those who considered the earth to be the immovable centre used this Bible text. In her left hand she is holding an “armillarium’, a compound globe made of rings.

A balance: the most prominent item in the drawing. Below the right arm of the woman is written "Ponderibus librata suis" ("According their own weight measured” - Isaiah 40 verse 12), pointing to the content of the two scales. On the left side is the hypothesis of Copernicus (much too light). On the right side the hypothesis of Riccioli himself, an improvment on the version by Tycho Brahe.

Ptolemy: the man below. In his left hand he is holding the coat of arms of cardinal Hieronymus Grimaldi, prince of Monaco, the person to whom Riccioli’s book was dedicated. The text says “Erigor dum corrigor” (“Discipline raises me up”).

God's hand is seen in an ecliptic. At God's fingers is written "numerus, mensura, pondus" (number, measure, weight) – the three methods of describing something.

The sun and the planets: to the left of God’s hand are figures of plump children (putti) with wings. They are pictured orbiting the sun together with Mercury, Venus and Mars. On the right side they are pictured with the Moon, Jupiter (with its 4 satellites), Saturn (with its ring) and a Comet. The fitting text is: ‘Dies diei eructat verbum, et nox nocti indicat scientiam’ (“One day passes to the other, the night announced it to the next one”). This is according to the symbolic expression of the day on the left side and the night on the right side.

God's name: to the top and centre of the image is God's name written as the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, JHWH in masoretic vowels.

Source: the website of the University of Leiden. Source on their website: H.A.M. Snelders, ‘Van geocentrisch naar heliocentrisch wereldbeeld’, in: Sterrenkunde. Geschiedenis en moderne inzichten over de bouw en evolutie van het heelal. Utrecht 1984 ( = Studium generale programma. Najaar 1984), p. 15-23.


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