Tag Archives: Astrology

Science in King Charles Street

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

King Charles street is next to Downing Street in the heart of London. I was walking from the Parliament Square to Trafalgar Square and I notice this “educational” picture (with a globe) in the arch which points the entrance of the street:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Furthermore, one of the buildings in Parliament Street has a lot of allegorical figures among which we can see the “Science” with the Zodiacal signs behind her:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Location: King Charles Street in London (map)

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Isaac Newton’s tomb

Isaac Newton's tomb in Westminster Abbey Photography by Carlos Dorce (it was permitted by one of the guards)

Isaac Newton’s tomb in Westminster Abbey
Photography by Carlos Dorce (it was permitted by one of the guards)

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) is one of the most important scientific men in the World! He invented the differential calculus and his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”), first published in 1687, laid the foundations for most of classical mechanics. So my visit to the Westminster Abbey had to be a special moment in the holidays because I was going to see his tomb (meanwhile I was writting the chapter about him in my new book which is going to be published in 2014!). However, the first thing that everybody in the abbey tell you when you arrive there is… “Taking photos is forbidden!). It can’t be possible!

Newton’s tomb is in the nave against the choir screen. It was sculpted in 1731 by Michael Rysbrack to the designs of the architect William Kent (1685-1748). It’s made of grey and white marble and it supports a sarcophagus with a relief panel:

Photography by Carlos Dorce (it was permitted by one of the guards)

Photography by Carlos Dorce (it was permitted by one of the guards)

It is possible to pick out eight little boys playing with different astronomical and scientific instruments as a telescope, a prism or an oven (Newton was also a good alchemist!). In the middle of the picture you can see a representation of the Heliocentric model: the Sun is in the left and is followed by Mercury, Venus, the Earth and the Moon below it, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

Photography by Carlos Dorce (it was permitted by one of the guards)

Photography by Carlos Dorce (it was permitted by one of the guards)

Newton is resting on four of his famous books: Divinity, Chronology, Optiks and the Principia Mathematica. He is pointing to the picture held up by two angels which represents a mathematical scheme and a formula. There is a globe over him with the Zodiacal signs graved on it and an allegory of the Astronomy sitting on the top.

A beautiful inscription is on the pedestal that holds the sarcophagus:

Photography by Carlos Dorce (it was permitted by one of the guards)

Photography by Carlos Dorce (it was permitted by one of the guards)

Here is buried Isaac Newton, Knight, who by a strength of mind almost divine, and mathematical principles peculiarly his own, explored the course and figures of the planets, the paths of the comets, the ideas of the sea, the dissimilarities in rays of light, and, what no other scholar has previously imagined, the properties ofthe colours thus produced. Diligent, sagacious and faithful, in his expositions of nature, antiquity and the Holy Scriptures, he vindicated by his philosophy the majesty of God mighty and good and expressed the simplicity of the Gospel in his manners. Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of the human race. He was born on 25th December 1642 and died on 20th March 1726.

As the photos are forbidden, I was lucky when I found a guard who allowed me to take the pictures of this post! You must visit it if you go to London! Among all the Kings, Queens, poets,… here you will gaze at one of the most charismatic mathematical monuments in the World!

Location: Westminster Abbey (map)

The Museum of the History of Science (V)

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

One of the curious objects of the collection is this Tamil charm with a magic square that is not dated. The copper plate carries a magic square in Tamil characters where the letters are equivalent to numbers.

We can also find these Italian engraved discs from the 17th or 18th century:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Although the purposes of these brass discs is not fully known, the were probably magical. [The left one] is engraved with a solar calendar, the signs of the zodiac, and the names of the angels supposed to govern them. [The other disc] has a representation of the Aristotelian cosmos.

And this is the Monument to Mathematics:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

This alabaster sculpture illustrates the regular polyhedra and it was presented to the Bodleian Library in 1620 by Sir Clement Edmonds, Fellow of All Souls:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Location: The Museum of the History of Science (map)

The Royal Observatory in Greenwich (I)

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Today we have visited the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. In the picture you can see the Queen’s house between the Chapel at the Old Royal Naval College (the building in the right) and the King William Court (in the left). The observatory is on the top of a hill and before visiting it, it’s very interesting go into these other three buildings and the National Maritime Museum to learn a lot of things about the 16th, 17th and 18th-century science.

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

The gateway of the main entrance to the gardens is decorated with two glass terrestial globes which are a very good appetizer to the museums:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

The chapel was originally designed by Christopher Wren but it wasn’t finished until 1752:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

The ceiling of King William Court is decorated with a wonderful painting in which we can see some representations of the calendar and the English glorious colonial past:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

For example, there is the zodiacal sign of the Lion pointing to the summer…

GO04

Photography by Carlos Dorce

…or an armilar sphere and a terrestial globe indicating the glory of the Englis navigators…

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

… and a parallactic ruler and the compass…

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

… or the telescope:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

In the second room there is another great painting in which we can see some angels…

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

… studying Maths!

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Next step in the visit has been the building of the Royal Observatory but this is a story for another post.

Location: Greenwich Observatory (map)

The wonderful vault of a Royal Library

Library of the monastery
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The King Philip II of Spain decided in 1550’s that he wanted to have a great library near his court in Madrid and he chose the new Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial to place it in spite of other bigger villages. He didn’t want that the new library was a regular room inside a monastery so it had to be a very important place. Therefore, the library was placed on the second floor of the monastery just above his royal chambers but never above the basilica. Between 1565 and 1576, the king bought almost 5.000 books and manuscripts and the library became one of the most important libraries in all Europe.

Imaginary portrait of Juan de Herrera (1791) from
the book “Retratos de Españoles ilustres
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The mathematician and architect Juan de Herrera (1530-1597) designed a large room (54 m. long x 9 m. wide x 10 m. high) with big windows in both sides under a great barrel vault. This vault had to be decorated by an important painter and Philip II decided that Peregrino Tibaldi (1527–1596) had to be the right artist to do the work. Philip II was advised by Juan de Herrera and other humanists and he decided that the main subject of the paintings of the vault had to be the Liberal Arts. Furthermore, the seven arts would be together with the Philosophy and the Theology on both ends of the room. The Philosophy represented the compendium of the Human knowledge and she is accompanied by Aristotle, Plato, Seneca and Socrates:

The Philosophy

The Philosophy

The Theology is on the side next to the convent and she represented the Divine knowledge. Therefore the vault represented the way from the Human Philosophy to the Divine knowledge through the seven Liberal Arts: the Arithmetic, the Geometry, the Astronomy (Astrology), the Music, the Rhetoric, the Grammar and the Dialectic. We can see a mathematical detail on the fresco below the Philosophy: it represents the School of Athens and there is a discussion between the Academics leaded by Socrates and the Stoics leaded by Zeno of Elea.

The School of Athens

The School of Athens

The scholars aren’t listening to the speakers because each of them is “playing” with something different. We can see at the lower left corner a man measuring something with a compass and two books, a sphere and an armilar sphere, a dodecahedron and a compass in the middle of the picture:

Detail of the School of Athens

Detail of the School of Athens

Going from the Philosophy to the Theology, we arrive at the Arithmetic after admiring the Grammar, the Rhetoric and the Dialectic. The Arithmetic is a woman turned to a table with simple mathematical operations rounded by muscled young men with tablets with arithmetical operations ans counting with their fingers:

The Arithmetic

The Arithmetic

There is also a representation of the Queen of Saba talking with King Solomon  According to the Book of the Kings (I,10,1), the Queen of Saba went to meet Solomon to ask some enigmas to him so we can see a ruler, a balance and a tablet with some numbers written on it. In the red tablecloth we can read “Everything has number, weight and measure” in Hebrew:

King Salomon and the Queen of Saba talking about numbers

King Salomon and the Queen of Saba talking about numbers

The other panel next to the Arithmetic represents the school of the Gymnosophists who lived near the Nile and thought their philosophical theories from the numerical computations. In the middle of the picture we can see one of the gymnosophist with a compass looking at a triangle with the word “Anima” and the arithmetic progression 1, 2, 3 and 4 and the geometric 1, 3, 9 and 27 written on it. The other gymnosophists are computing with numbers written on the sand:

The Gymnosophists

The Gymnosophists

Finally, at both sides of the Arithmetic on the roof we find four people related with this subject: Archytas of Tarentum (c.428–c.347 BC) and Boethius (c.480-c.525) in one side and the Platonic Xenocrates (c.396/5 – 314/3 BC) and Jordan in the other. They are writing numbers in their tablets.

There is the Music after the Arithmetic and we find the Geometry after it:

The Geometry

The Geometry

She has a compass in one of her hands and the young men around her have different geometrical instruments. The two scenes which are on the corresponding walls next to her are dedicated to some Egyptian monks drawing geometrical figures on the sand…

Egyptian monks measuring the lands

Egyptian monks measuring the lands

and Archimedes’ death:

Archimedes' death

Archimedes’ death

Notice that Archimedes is drawing the demonstration of the Theorem of Pythagoras made by Euclid!

Finally, the four chosen figures are the Astronomer Aristarchus of Samos (IIIrd c. BC) and the Persian astrologer Abd del Aziz also known as Alcabitius (Xth century) in one side and Archimedes (c.287-212 BC) and Regiomontanus (1436-1476)  in the other. Aristarchus is measuring angles and has a dodecahedron at his feet, Alcabitius has a carpenter’s square, Archimedes has a compass and a sphere to measure the Earth and Regiomontanus is pointing at a dodecahedron.

The last Liberal Art is the Astrology. She is backed on a terrestrial globe and her eyes are looking at the sky. She has a compass in one of her hands and the little boys around her have an armilar sphere and some astronomical books:

The Astrology

The Astrology

In one of the two panels on the walls we can see Dionysius the Areopagite observing a solar eclipse the day of Jesuschrist’s death in Athens (Luke, 23,45) We can notice a quadrant and an astrolabe in the hands of the amazed men!

Dionysius the Areopagite observing a solar eclipse

Dionysius the Areopagite observing a solar eclipse

The other fresco represents King Ezekiel resting in bed and looking how time is delayed 15 years by God because of the repentance of his sins:

astronomia2

Ezekiel resting in bed

The four famous men are Euclid, Ptolemy, Alfonso X and Johannes of Sacrobosco. Euclid is represented here meaning the relationship between Astrology and Geometry. He has drawn three geometrical schemes. One is a triangle and a square inscribed in a circle and another square. Another scheme seems to be two overlaid squares partially hidden by Euclid’s name. In the middle of both pictures there is a man measuring the stars. Johannes of Sacrobosco has a quadrant in his right hand.

Euclid and Johannes of Sacrobosco

Euclid and Johannes of Sacrobosco

King Alfonso X of Castile (XIIIth. c) is the author of the Libros del Saber de Astronomía (“Books of the Astronomical knowledge”) and on the tablet which he has in his hands we notice a compass and the Ursa Maior (the compass is anachronistic!). His left hand has an open book with a horoscope

Alfonso X

Alfonso X

So you can see that this wonderful vault is an open mathematical book designed by Tibaldi and Juan de Herrera. I’ve been twice in the library and now I am waiting for the next time that I could enjoy this artistic part of the monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.

Location: San Lorenzo de El Escorial (map)