Typus Corporis Lunaris Panselini [First edition]
Athanasius Kircher’s pioneering map of the Moon.
One of the first attempts to map a planetary body in any detail.
Predates the seminal Cassini map by more than a decade.
This superb engraving from the first edition of Athanasius Kircher’s Late Renaissance work, the Mundus Subterraneus, constitutes one of the first serious attempts at drawing an observation-based map of the moon. It is as rich in detail as it is strange in appearance. Kircher had conducted extensive astronomical studies of the lunar surface and concocted a series of theories on its composition and geography.
The Mundus Subterraneus was the first scientific work to describe the Earth’s inner workings: an encyclopedic 12-book tome brimming with explanatory diagrams and maps. Among the most famous and desirable images are bold attempts to map the sun and the moon in considerable detail.
In this highly original attempt at lunar mapping, Kircher depicts a range of features on the visible surface, which he also describes in the associated text of the book. Like Cassini’s famous map of the moon from 1679, Kircher’s map does not identify or label any features on the map itself. But unlike the realism of Cassini’s depiction, the features on Kircher’s map are amorphous and strange, bordering on the fantastical. Large amoeba-like fields represent enormous depressions, gigantic craters with star lines emanating from them, and mountain ranges of continental scope.
That this is indeed the first state of the map is confirmed by the fact that the engraving does not contain the large title banner borne by putti on clouds, which was added to a more widely distributed edition from 1669. Our edition of this lunar map is thus highly collectible.
Ultimately, this map is a product of Renaissance curiosity. But at the same time, it also heralds the more systematic scientific and philosophical approaches that would define the new Age of Enlightenment.
Context is Everything
Athanasius Kircher was one of the great polymaths of the 17th century. He was a contemporary of Galileo and possessed a similar curiosity and thirst for knowledge, although he remained in the good graces of the Church throughout his life. As a Jesuit priest and scholar, Kircher was a learned man who had leeway to conduct a range of important experiments and observations during his lifetime. His true awakening, however, came after a visit to southern Italy in 1637-38.
The volcanic activity he witnessed in Italy both fascinated and frightened Kircher to such an extent that he built his most famous work, a comprehensive survey of the subterranean world, on the observations made during this trip. He expanded these with earlier datasets and a plethora of wonderful explanatory illustrations and maps.
The Mundus Subterraneus marks the first serious effort to describe the physical makeup of the Earth, proposing theories (sometimes fantastical) within the fields of physics, geography, geology, and chemistry. Among the hypotheses that Kircher put forward in this work was the existence of a vast network of underground springs, reservoirs, and lakes. He was also the first to suggest that subterranean temperatures increase directly in proportion to depth.
In addition to speculating on the geological makeup of the Earth, the Mundus Subterraneus proposed the existence of underground rivers of fire and strange inhabitants in the planet’s interior. The book’s complexity was underlined by its endeavor to link the subterranean phenomena with observable features on the Earth’s surface (e.g. currents and meteorology), as well as with celestial phenomena like solar and lunar eclipses. Kircher then used established ideas about the Earth to create hypothetical depictions of the sun and the moon.
Kircher lived in a world where anything that could be mapped could be understood. Indeed, mapping often proved a vital part of the process that led to understanding. In the 17th century, such notions drove men to explore the Earth’s furthest and most inhospitable regions, just as it drove our author to lower himself into the crater of Vesuvius shortly after an eruption.
Very good. Fold lines visible. Wear along upper edge.