LJS 490: Astronomy

For Coffee With A Codex on November 29 we took at look at LJS 490, a German astronomical compendium written in the mid-fifteenth century. Cities in the Baden-Württemberg region of Germany are mentioned frequently, which probably means that it was written there, or written to be used there. The style – many short texts written by multiple hands in a somewhat disorganized manner – suggests that it may have been the work of students.

Astrological diagram. LJS 490, f. 3r

The manuscript includes a variety of different texts, many of them unidentified, but they tend to focus on three different main types of texts: Tables about locations of astronomical objects, treatises on astronomical instruments, and treatises on other scientific subjects.

Table & diagrams in a section on sundials. LJS 490, f. 24v-25r

The script is a typical 15th century Gothic cursive, written by at least three different hands. Many of the pages, particularly early in the book, have occasional rubrication in a bright red ink. There are many diagrams illustrating either astronomical events or how to use some different relevant instruments – astrolabes, quadrants, and sundials. There are also occasional marginal drawings that are less formal.

Diagram of a quadrant. LJS 490, f. 27v
Marginal drawing of a quadrant. LJS 490, f. 28v

The texts are presented in an organization that seems somewhat piecemeal, as though the book wasn’t planned out before the scribe started writing. For example, there are separate sections on astrolabes on folios 17r-22r, 29r-33v, 43r-49r, interspersed with shorter texts on such varied topics as a table of fixed stars, practical geometry, the use of the quadrant and the Jacob’s staff. It is likely that the book was used as a practical school text.

Diagram and table. LJS 490, f. 58r

Find out more about LJS 490 by viewing the digitized version and reading the full catalog records on BiblioPhilly.

We host Coffee With A Codex every Monday at 12pm ET / 5pm GMT on Zoom. For a schedule three weeks ahead, visit our main page here.

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