The Wizard Earl's Armillary Sphere

Contributed by Museum of the History of Science

The Wizard Earl’s Armillary Sphere

This magnificent armillary sphere stands in the centre of the museum's top gallery. It was designed to show a model of the universe according the ancient astronomer, Claudius Ptolemy, with the Earth at the centre and the sun and heavenly sphere rotating about it. During the Renaissance, such models were commonly used to understand the way in which the sun and stars seemed to move, and how this changes from season to season.

This one was probably made in Italy and came to England in the 1590s. It was owned by Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, who was also known as the 'Wizard Earl' because of his interest in magic, alchemy and the occult. Henry Percy's coat of arms is engraved on the base which is supported by three magnificent cast lions. Later, the sphere came into the hands of Sir Josias Bodley, the younger brother of Sir Thomas Bodley, who founded Oxford's Bodleian Library.

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