A brass Ptolemaic armillary sphere

By DELLA VOLPAIA, Girolamo, 1598 

[Armillary sphere].

  • Author: DELLA VOLPAIA, Girolamo
  • Publication place: Florence
  • Publication date: 1598.
  • Physical description: Gilt brass Ptolemaic armillary sphere, signed under the horizon ring, Hieronymvs Vvlparia Floren(ti)nus Faciebat A.D.M.D.LXXXXVIII’; brass, with wooden Earth sphere, set in a brass horizon ring on a turned wooden base, the horizon ring, divided to each degree in four quadrants of 90 degrees each, attached by two arcs attached to a tapering post which fits into the base, the top of which is prevented from splitting by a decorated brass ring; the horizon ring engraved in Latin with the names of the thirteen winds, the rotatable sphere supported within the horizon ring by a meridian ring, two great circles through the equinoxes and the solstices on the ecliptic circle,with the signs named, earthsphere axis with solar and lunar rings, turned fruitwood base.
  • Dimensions: 200 by 120mm. (7.75 by 4.75 inches).
  • Inventory reference: 11741


Girolamo della Volpaia (c.1530–1614) was the last in a family of prominent Florentine instrument makers. His grandfather, Lorenzo di Volpaia, was active during the reign of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and built the famous planetary clock now held in the Palazzo Vecchio as a Medici commission. Lorenzo di Volpaia was a correspondent of Leonardo da Vinci, and was on the committee which decided the placement of Michelangelo’s David. His sons and grandson carried on the business. Girolamo made a name for himself in his own right after restoring the planetary clock his grandfather had made and carried out commissions in Venice and Siena. By the time Girolamo was active, the Medici were one of the great families of Europe. They had taken the title of Grand Dukes of Tuscany after Siena had been brought under Medici rule in 1560. Their growing wealth and power enabled a series of brilliant matches with royal houses from France to Lorraine. The family interest in science and the arts remained, and the Medici continued to buy instruments from the dell Volpaia workshop.

This sphere would have been used to teach astronomical principles according to the theories of Aristotle and Ptolemy. It shows the earth at the centre of the universe; the heliocentric theories of the universe advocated by Copernicus and Galileo had not yet gained widespread acceptance, particularly in Italy.

Although there are a handful of extant instruments by Girolamo in existence, this sphere was unseen when it first came on the market and is not recorded in Maccagni. 

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