Astronomical Compendium or Astrolabium (Astrolabe)

View Related Pages

Toledo Museum of Art to Return Scientific Instrument to Germany

AstrolabeA lavishly-designed, 16th century scientific instrument will be returned to Germany in March 2015.

The 450-year-old astrological compendium or astrolabe was a multifunctional device used to tell time and make astronomical calculations less than 50 years after Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition circumnavigated the globe by sea for the first time. The astrolabe was manufactured in Germany and part of the Gotha Museum’s collection until it went missing in the period after World War II.

The Toledo Museum of Art purchased the device in 1954 for $6,500. Museum authorities received a letter from the director of the Gotha Museum in 2013 requesting its return. The Gotha Museum had extensive documentation, including photographs, which convinced TMA officials that the Toledo astrolabe was the same one missing since 1945.

In appreciation of the Toledo Museum of Art’s cooperation on this matter, Gotha Museum officials have offered objects to Toledo as part of a cultural exchange. The exact terms of that exchange have not been finalized at this time. There will be no public transfer ceremony as the arrangements have been handled privately between the two museums.

Astronomical Compendium or Astrolabium (Astrolabe)

Origin: Germany, Augsburg, Christoph Schissler the Elder (1530-1608)

Medium: Gilt bronze and enamel, 1567

Inscribed: CHRISTOPHORUS SCHISSLER FACIEBAT AUGUSTAE VINDELICORUM – ANNO DOMINI 1567 [Christopher Schissler made this, Augsburg ― Anno Domini 1567]

Dimensions: Diam: 6 7/8 in.; H. 1 1/16 in.

Source and Price: Purchased from Rosenberg & Stiebel, New York, in 1954 for $ 6,500.

Funding Source: Purchased with funds from the Florence Scott Libbey Bequest in Memory of her Father, Maurice A. Scott.

Acc. No.: 1954.21

Purpose of the object:

The object is a scientific instrument identified as an Astronomical Compendium. Astronomical compendia are a collection of different, small sized instruments in one box. They provided the user with a multitude of options in a handy format, but were also very expensive items which were clearly meant to show off the owner’s wealth, knowledge, and intellect. They were made as special order, reflecting the patron’s desire. The cover served as a sun dial telling time and season according to the position of the planets (the pointer-guide is missing, the string forms the shadow). The interior also includes a map of the known world; a plumb-bob could be attached to the center to calculate the angle of inclination; a wind rose and compass is engraved on one of the interior sections, the central weather vane now missing; a lunary, an instrument calculating the time according to aspects of the moon; a perpetual calendar giving the names of the principle saints; a zodiac showing which signs govern the months and days. The entire instrument could be suspended from a swiveled eye.

Provenance Summary:

1567 Created by Schissler in Augsburg, presumably as a commission for the Kunstkammer of the Prague Court
1620 After the battle of the White Mountain Maximilian of Bavaria takes the astrolabe as a spoil of war to Munich.
1632 The Swedish king Gustav Adolf (1594-1632) and his Saxon allies seize Munich and take the astrolabe as spoils during the Thirty Year War (1618-1648).
1640 The war spoils are divided after Gustav Adolf’s and his ally Bernhard of Saxon-Weimar’s deaths. The astrolabe becomes the property of Ernest the Pious (1601-1675), brother of Bernhard, who moves it to Gotha.
1879 -1890 An inventory of the Duke of Gotha’s collections, drawn up by C. Aldenhoven, lists and describes the astrolabe as item no. 156 (copy of document supplied by the Gotha Museum).
1933 According to correspondence between scholar and author Maximilian Bobinger and the director of the Gotha collection, Karl Purgold (and director Eberhardt Freiherr Schenck Schweinsberg), the astrolabe is still in the Gotha Collection.
c. 1938 A photo preserved in the archives of Castle Friedenstein of the new installation of the Gotha museum shows the astrolabe (in closed position) in a vitrine jointly with the large astrolabe by Schissler from 1568.
1940-45 The Gotha Museum closes during WW II. In order to protect the most important art works (mostly paintings) during the air raids, they were transferred to Reinhardsbrunn, a hunting castle situated 14 kilometers east of Gotha.
Apr. 4 – Jun. 30, 1945 American occupation of Thuringia (incl. Gotha).
Jul. 2, 1945 Transfer of Thuringia to the Soviet authorities. A large part of the Gotha collections are moved to the Soviet Union, which later restitutes many works of art to the new GDR government. The Schissler compendium is not among those objects.
1954 The Schissler Compendium is acquired for TMA’s collection by Toledo Museum of Art Director Otto Wittmann from Rosenberg & Stiebel in New York.
May 2013 A letter is received from Dr. Martin Eberle, director of the museum in Gotha regarding the provenance of the astrolabe.
July 2013 TMA Director Dr. Brian Kennedy writes to Dr. Eberle, acknowledging that the astrolabe documented in the Gotha collection and the one at TMA are “most likely one and the same”.
Sept. 2013 TMA Curator Dr. Jutta Page is sent by Dr. Kennedy to discuss the object’s repatriation with director Eberly and curator Dr. Timo Trümper. Gotha expresses interest in handling the repatriation in the form of a cultural exchange.
Jan. 2014 TMA receives a package of publications from Gotha to aid in selecting possible works of art suitable for an exchange.
April 2014 TMA enters discussions with Gotha to discuss a possible repatriation date.