The Armillary Sphere is an ancient astronomical instrument. A model of objects in the sky, the name of this scientific implement comes from the latin “Armilla” (circle bracelet) due to its graduated metal circles linking the poles and representing the equator, ecliptic, meridians and parallels. In its beginning the Armillary Sphere was a celestial sphere consisting of a framework of rings, centered on the Earth, that represented lines of celestial longitude and latitude and other astronomically important features. It is said that one of the first models ever made to be used to demonstrate how something works was an Armillary Sphere, a model of the universe. By moving the interlocking rings (Equinoctial and Solstitial armilla) the movement of the stars could be demonstrated. Shadows were used as indices of the sun’s positions. When several rings were combined representing the circles of the heavens, the instrument became an Armillary Sphere. As early models had the Earth at the center of the Universe, as new discoveries were made throughout history, Armillary Spheres were modified or altered to coordinate with the findings. The interlocking rings illustrate the circles of the sun, moon, planets and stars…a classic addition to grace our exterior gardens and add a sense of the vastness of the Universe in our interiors….
The exact origin for the Armillary Sphere is uncertain. Some sources attribute the invention of the Armillary Sphere to Greek Philosopher Anaximader of Miletus (611-547 BC) and others credit Greek astronomer Hipparchus (190-120 BC). Interestingly, Hipparchus is said to have credited Eratosthenes (276-194 BCE). History states that the globe was constructed at the same time that Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543) published his revolutionary Copernican System with the sun as the center of the Solar System. Who knew?
It is said that the Armillary spheres were used by the Greeks as teaching tools and observational instruments in the 3rd century BCE. In China, the Armillary sphere is believed to date back to the 4th century BCE, in which astronomers Shi Shen and Gan De used primitive single-ring Armillary instruments were used to assist in observing the stars. The Armillary was also used for calendrical computations and calculations. However, it is also argued and believed that the Armillary sphere can be traced to the 1st century BCE. The evolution of the Armillary Sphere continued during the Western Han Dynsasty (202 BCE-9th century) developments were made that advanced the use of the Armillary. In 53 CE, Chinese astronomer Geng Shouchang introduced the addition of a permanently fixed equatorial ring of the Armillary. During the Eastern Han Dynasty period (23-220 CE) astronomers Fu An and Jia Kui added the elliptical ring by 84 CE. The sphere was completed in 125 CE with horizon and meridian rings added by astronomer and inventer Zhang Heng (78-139 CE). Later, other additions were made that improved the use of the Armillary further. Persian and Arab astronomers during the 8th century also produced an improved version of the Greek Armillary Sphere. The Armillary Sphere was introduced to Western Europe in the late 10th century by Gerbert d’Aurillac, the later Pope Sylvester II. History documents that during the Middle Ages the use of Armillary Spheres became widespread and were refined once again. Interestingly, Renaissance scientists and public figures commonly had their portraits painted with one of their hands on an Armillary Sphere, which represented the height of wisdom and knowledge. Before the development of the telescope in the 17th century, the Armillary Sphere was the key instrument for astronomers in determining celestial positions. Although the origination of the Armillary cannot be confirmed, it has a long charted history, indeed.
As the seasons change, the elements found within the garden will remain…
Armillary Spheres are timeless, classic additions of historical purpose and intent that leads to fascinating and engaging decoration in any space. Whether the Armillary is classical in shape shape or a modern spin of its round globe form, the addition to an exterior or interior adds a quintessential incorporation of timeless design. Rethink this enduring element that transports our thoughts upward to the vastness of the skies, the majesty of the moon and the radiance of the stars. Reminders, perhaps, of the wonderment of the solar system that will never cease to amaze us….
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars and see yourself running with them” -Marcus Aurelius