Accession No


Brief Description

11-inch manuscript celestial globe, Edo period, Japanese, 1784






Earliest Date

Jan. 1, 1784

Latest Date

Dec. 31, 1784

Inscription Date


wood; paper; plaster (possibly gofun); metal (steel, iron, gold flake, others); ink


diameter of globe 280mm; stand width and depth 460mm, total height 395mm

Special Collection


Purchased from Christie’s, 8 Kings Street, St James, London, England, on 16/06/1999. Lot 99 from Japanese Art and Design Catalogue.


inscribed near the south pole
Tenmei yonen saiji kinoetatsu gogatsu

Description Notes

11-inch Japanese manuscript celestial globe, Edo period, 1784. Plaster sphere with wooden stand.

Plaster sphere on a wooden stand with a cross shaped base, five supporting uprights and a horizontal circle. Also just over a semi-circular metal vertical support. All markings have been applied in ink in manuscript directly onto the plaster surface. The milky way is depicted with flakes of gold leaf.

The globe shows the celestial equator in red, the plane of the ecliptic in yellow (with small holes roughly every 2mm along it) and stars arranged in constellations with its name, in black, red, green and yellow ink, the milky way is covered by a wash of gold leaf, two single line latitudinal circles drawn in black on the sphere to indicate the circle of perpetual visibility ( in the north polar region) and the circle of perpetual invisibility (in the south polar region); the globe also divided longitudinally in black into a number of lunar lodges or mansions of varying width, inscribed near the south pole Tenmei yonen saiji kinoetatsu gogatsu (The fifth month of the forth year of Tenmei (1784)).

A long Chinese inscription near the south pole lists three historic Chinese computations of the number of stars constellations. The red dots indicate a Wei-dynasty computation of 810 stars in 138 constellations, the yellow dots a Shang-dynasty computation of 144 stars in 44 constellations and the black dots a Qi-dynasty computation of 511 stars in 118 constellations, a total of 1,465 stars in 300 constellation to which the maker of the present globe added his own computation, in green dots of 308 stars in 61 constellations. A further inscription explains that a combination of one black, one yellow and one red circle has been used to mark those stars which were visible in ancient times but can now no longer be seen.

The vertical wooden circle of the stand has 24 equally spaced Chinese characters on its upper side.


Katie Taylor; 'The Japanese star globe and historical astronomy'; Explore Whipple Collections online article; Whipple Museum of the History of Science; University of Cambridge; 2009:


This hand-drawn globe is less ornamental than the majority of Asian astronomical instruments that survive from the Edo period (1603-1868). The small size, low weight, and clarity of the characters suggest that the globe might have been used in teaching. Alternatively, the globe might have been a prototype for a more luxurious engraved metal instrument. The star map on the globe follows traditional astronomical conventions attributed to the Han dynasty (206 BCE–200CE) that based observations of the heavens on Chinese models. Chinese models of the night’s sky differed from star maps appearing in contemporary western globes as the former used different star groups, which generally did not correspond to European constellations. At the time that this globe was produced, Chinese astronomy was being influenced by western science as introduced by Jesuit missionaries; yet this globe is entirely sourced from Chinese rather than western influences. Japan under the Tokugawa was a ‘closed country’ and anti-Christian. During this regime, the only outsiders allowed into Japan were the Dutch and the Chinese for trading purposes only.

Created by: Allison Ksiazkiewicz on 14/01/2014


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