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De Sphaera Mundi: The Spheres of the Cosmos

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De Sphaera History    Map of the Cosmos    Planets

The first word that you ever spoke was: light.
Thus time began. For long you said no more.
Man was your second, and a frightening, word
(the sound of it still shrouds us in its night),
and then again you brooded as before.

But I am one who would not hear your third.

~Rainer Marie Rilke, Poems from the Book of Hours

De Sphaera, Medieval Astronomy 101

De Sphaera Mundi is a medieval introduction to the basic elements of astronomy, written about 1230 A.D. It was a university textbook and hand-copied before the first printed edition appeared in 1472. More than 84 editions and versions exist. It's more fun to understand the context of the images, so I want to talk a bit about the medieval worldview before introducing the tiles.

De Sphaera is based largely on Ptolemy's Almagest, as well as drawing from Islamic astronomy. It was one of the most influential works of pre-Copernican astronomy in Europe.

A Hierarchy of Light

The cosmos began as a single entity of dark awareness, a monad. From that darkness came light, a beautiful and miraculous act of will by a god reaching into itself and bringing forth the Prima Materia of life that took form in a kaleidoscope of duality and spirit which take form, in infinite variation, in the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water. This is, to be sure, a gross oversimplification as befits an introduction to art and artifact. I'll add some links in the Resources section of this page, but the history is long and I do not pretend to be a medieval scholar.

The Celestial Spheres with the Earth at its center, Catalan Atlas, 13th century

The map of the Cosmos is one of concentric and permeable spheres, each encompassing the other while maintaining its own discrete characteristics with correspondences in the others and the earthly realm. The spheres, in descending order, from the immortal heavens to the more solid and transitory planes of existence are:

  • God, or the Great All-That-Is, but not as a transcendent Persona

  • Prima Materia - or the first-moved, undifferentiated substance from which forms take their shape

  • The Fixed Stars in the Heavens

  • The visible lights in the sky. In Chaldean order: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon. Each of these spheres in turn, has its own castes of angels, spirits, intelligences. And finally

  • The earthly realm of humankind.

Mapping the Heavens

De Sphaera is one of the last, and certainly the best known, astronomical work that does not divorce itself from applied astronomy (astrology). The rift was largely due to the influence and literal interpretations by the monotheistic Abrahamic traditions, wherein the faces of God numbered three at most, resulting in repeated imperial bans. But it wasn't only that. The astrology-astronomy connection was attacked from two sides: the god-fearing and the godless.

For the former, the names of the planets inherited from Greek and Roman traditions contributed to the unfortunate literalization of the spheres as gods -- and indeed, it can be helpful to think of them that way, but the planets are more emanations of Unum-Verum-Bonum than as divine or demonic meddlers. For the latter, emanations of the Divine, whatever one takes that to mean, were meaningless. For most people, however, the influence of the visible planets was a given, just as today even logical positivists take for granted the influence of the moon on the tides and weather, and of solar flares on electronics.

Daily Life

De Sphaera shows the human activities that fall under the influence of the spheres, some of which, the Lights (sun and moon) seem obvious to us: Agriculture and the Ocean. For the reflected lights, the visible planets, the influence is less evident, but mythically and psychologically, the archetypal images are familiar.

In spite of the repeated bans, there was a resurgence of interest in astrology in the late middle ages, and the worldview of the spheres is reflected in much of the art of this period, such as the Book of Hours of the Duc de Berry (Les Très Riches Heures), where the ruling constellations are shown over each scene in the labors of the month. De Sphaera predates the Book of Hours by nearly 200 years.

One interesting feature of the Très Riches Heures is the Anatomical Man at the end of the calendar section. It may not have been included intentionally, as the codex was bound several hundred years after its completion. The Anatomical Man (tiles) was painted especially for the Duc de Berry, then more than 70, and carries his coat of arms.

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De Sphaera Tiles

The De Sphaera tiles come on 8 x 10 inch or 6 x 8 inch tiles, usually on a black or cobalt background. There are a few other colors available (see bottom of page), but I don't match colors for all the reasons I talk about elsewhere.

The title heading is part of the originals but because it takes up so much real estate on the tile, I don't include it as the default, unless you ask for it.

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De Sphaera mundi, Sol and Luna

The Lights: Sol and Luna

The sun and moon are the two luminaries. Sol brings life and energy. Luna makes things manifest.

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De Sphaera mundi, Jupiter and Venus

The Benefics: Jupiter and Venus

Benefics bring balance. Jupiter, the greater benefic, is expansive. Venus, the lesser benefic, moderates human experiences.

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And Not So Benefic: Saturn, Mars, and Mercury

The malefics, Saturn and Mars, are characterized by extremes but come with their own gifts as well, such as patience and drive. Both bring challenges and opportunities to learn, lessons we may not find timely or easy to experience.

Mercury, the messenger, is non-dual and governs communications and commerce. He has access to all the realms, including the underworld.

De Sphaera mundi, Mars and Mercury

Tile Availability and Pricing

Custom Tiles

All the tiles I make are custom tiles, in that I make them for you when you order them. In keeping with tradition, planetary tiles are ritually made at the corresponding planetary day and hour, once your order reaches the top of the queue. This can take as long as a week. You will usually have your tiles within three weeks, including ship time. Murals may take slightly longer.

Pricing for De Sphaera Tiles

6 x 8 inch tiles: $210 first tile, $200 additional tiles

8 x 10 inch tiles: $250 first tile, $240 additional tiles

See How to Order Tile

De Sphaera Murals

Murals are available without backgrounds, as shown, on both 4.25 inch and 6 inch tiles.

Mural Pricing

12-tile mural on 4.25 inch tiles: $1295

12-tile mural on 6 inch tiles: $1610

See How to Order Tile

De Sphaera Mundi tiles