Tycho Brahe's Books

Some historians have made strong claims about the role of the printing-press in the transformation of the sciences during the Renaissance, and Tycho Brahe, as an astronomer who controlled his own printing-press, has attracted particular attention. But Tycho was not the first astronomer-printer. Moreover, his printing operation was not run as a commercial enterprise. Although he produced his own works in large print-runs, only a few copies, presented as gifts to princes, nobles, and fellow scholars, were distributed in his lifetime. These gift-copies were sometimes furnished with lavish bindings and hand-coloured illustrations. Tycho also presented copies of works in manuscript.
A sextant from one of Tycho's books. A sextant from one of Tycho's books.

Large image (77K).
Very Large image (1.7M).

Tycho's first work, De Nova Stella (1573), was printed in Copenhagen. It was after he had moved to Hven that he acquired his own press, which was operational by 1584. Poems and works under the name of his students were issued from the press; Tycho also offered to print texts for his friends and correspondents, but was prevented from doing so by a shortage of paper. This problem, which also held up the printing of his own works, eventually caused Tycho to construct a paper-mill on Hven. The De mundi aetherei recentioribus phaenomenis (1588) and the Epistolae astronomicae (1596) were both produced at Uraniborg, while the Astronomiae instauratae mechanica (1598) and the Astronomiae instauratae progymnasmata (1602) were begun there, but completed after Tycho had left Denmark.

Tycho had planned to produce an account of his instruments for some years prior to the completion of the Astronomiae instauratae mechanica, and woodcuts which were destined for this work can also be found in his other publications; the image shown here, of one of Tycho's sextants, was first printed in 1588. In describing the construction and use of astronomical instruments, Tycho was following in a tradition which included Ptolemy, the Alfonsine astronomers, and Regiomontanus. However, in the level of detail he provided, and in the standard of his illustrations, he appears to have established a precedent which influenced many later astronomers.

Recommended Reading

J. Bennett & D. Bertoloni Meli, Sphaera Mundi: Astronomy Books in the Whipple Museum 1478-1600, Cambridge 1994

A. Chapman, "Tycho Brahe in China: The Jesuit Mission to Peking and the Iconography of the European Instrument-Making Process", Annals of Science 41 (1984), pp. 417-433

J. Dreyer, Tycho Brahe: A Picture of Scientific Life and Work in the Sixteenth Century, Edinburgh 1890. Reprinted New York 1963

E. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge 1979, 2 vols

A. Johns, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making, Chicago 1998, pp. 6-28

H. Raeder, E. Strömgren, & B. Strömgren, Tycho Brahe's Description of His Instruments and Scientific Work, Copenhagen 1946

V. Thoren, The Lord of Uraniborg: A Biography of Tycho Brahe, Cambridge 1990

Full Bibliography