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Jamieson’s Heavenly Celestial Atlas from 1822


Sagittarius: Archer in Latin, and this constellation is usually represented by a centaur firing an arrow

Alexander Jamieson was an 18th century schoolteacher who wrote textbooks on the side. His books included A Grammar of Universal Geography, A Grammar of Logic and Intellectual Philosophy and the Mechanics of Fluids for Practical Men, and you can be excused for giving these three a miss. But you cannot turn your back on Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas from 1822.

Born on the Isle of Bute, the son of a Scottish wheelwright, Jamieson became a member of the Astronomical Society of London and is chiefly remembered for his beautiful depiction of the heavens in a celestial atlas. The book’s full and lengthy title is A Celestial Atlas, Comprising a Systematic Display of the Heavens in a Series of Thirty Maps, Illustrated by Scientific Descriptions of their Contents, and Accompanied by a Catalogue of the Stars and Astronomical Exercises.

Cost forced Jamieson to produce a small atlas

Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas contains 30 engraved illustrations by a firm called Neele & Son. The star maps are overlaid with imagery from the Zodiac and ancient mythology. The latest scientific knowledge is combined with artistic craftsmanship. Jamieson wasn’t the first to mix art and astronomy, but his atlas, which was allowed to be dedicated to King George IV (quite the honor), remains memorable to this day.

Twenty six of the plates are constellation maps. Jamieson only displayed stars visible to the naked eye, making it widely accessible to anyone who looked at the heavens.

Pictorial star atlases were popular at this time but these impressive books were often large and expensive. Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas was much smaller and cheaper. Each chart was approximately 9 inches by 7 inches in size. Jamieson explains in the preface that he had originally wanted larger charts, but used smaller ones to reduce production costs.

He printed black and white and hand-colored versions which were offered for £1 5 shillings or £1 11 shillings and 6 pence respectively. These books are now scarce and only one copy can be found on AbeBooks, for £2,350, (NOW SOLD) but individual prints are available.

Orion was a hunter in Greek mythology who was sent to the heavens by Zeus.

Jamieson produced a second edition of the star atlas just four months after releasing first, almost certainly due to demand. In 1824, he published a follow-up called An Atlas of Outline Maps of the Heavens but it did not sell well.

Jamieson’s original Celestial Atlas was so popular that his artwork was copied and used in a book called Urania’s Mirror, which was published anonymously (since it was blatantly plagiarised) in 1824. Urania’s Mirror contains hand-coloured cards depicting mythological figures while strategic pinholes indicate the location of the stars, allowing a viewer to visualise their appearance in the sky when held up the sky. Apparently, these cards had a tendency to catch on fire. It was books like Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas and Urania’s Mirror that helped popularize the idea of the heavens being a blank piece of paper for artists.

Find Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas

Auriga: This constellation was identified as early as the 2nd century AD by the astronomer Ptolemy. Its Latin name means ‘charioteer.’ Illustrations traditionally show a chariot and its driver, who is holding goats and reins.

Cancer: The fourth sign in the Zodiac. This constellation is usually represented by the crab, based on Karkinos, a huge crab that harassed Greek hero Heracles during his battle with the Hydra.

Cetus: A whale-like sea monster in Greek mythology slain by Perseus in order to save Andromeda from Poseidon.

Ursa Major: Also known as the Great Bear, this constellation is in the northern sky and has been known for eons. It was one of the original 48 constellations listed by Ptolemy.

Hydra (SOLD): The largest of the 88 modern constellations and commonly represented as a water snake.

Perseus: A constellation in the northern sky, named after the Greek hero Perseus. Andromeda is also in the north and named after the daughter of Cassiopeia. She was chained to a rock to be eaten by a sea monster.

Cygnus: A northern constellation lying on the plane of the Milky Way, deriving its name from the Latin and Greek for swan. Cygnus contains Deneb, one of the brightest stars.

Taurus (SOLD): A large constellation in the northern hemisphere’s winter sky. Stargazers have looked up to this constellation since the Bronze Age. The association with a bull dates back thousands of years.

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2 Responses to “Jamieson’s Heavenly Celestial Atlas from 1822”

  1. avatar
    Agnes Boddington August 16, 2018 at 3:07 pm

    Wish I had the money to buy this atlas.

  2. avatar

    Desearía tener el dinero para comprar este atlas.