The first edition of this rare work on celestial spheres (1543) by Nicolaus Copernicus is made even more precious by handwritten annotations from astronomer Johannes Kepler. Today the university library has a valuable collection of more than 25,000 printed books of the 16th-century.
Here to see (Slider, Fig. 1) is the 4th chapter out of the 5th book, which deals with the question of why the proper motions of the planets appear irregular. Because the Earth circles the sun with greater speed and in a nearer course than Jupiter, it therefore laps Jupiter. This appears in the night sky as if Jupiter would change its course. This phenomenon is also called planet looping. In a geocentric worldview (in which the sun circles the earth) this occurrence was simply unexplainable.
The attempt was made to explain this phenomenon with the help of a complicated theory of epicycles, by which the planets completed a separate orbit around another middle point centered on another Earth satellite. This theory of epicycles was so complicated that many – not only the polish astronomer Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543) – wanted to get rid of it. Though Copernicus developed the heliocentric worldview, he still had to accept a reduced version of the theory of epicycles, because he believed in the circular nature of the planetary orbit. Johannes Kepler (1561-1630) was the first person able to renounce the theory of epicycles, because he discovered that the planets moved in elliptical orbits.
The figure on page 142 shows how Copernicus explained away the planets' looping. The orbits of two planets are recognizable – the inner circle and the outer circle – and the epicycles (small circles on the outer circle) appear as part of the orbit of the outer planet. The handwritten notes are presumably from Kepler. They say that there is a difference between assuming the sun as the middle point of the presented system and assuming a point near to the sun. Because it puts the sun is in the middle of the universe, this book is a milestone of modern science. The Leipzig example is especially valuable, because its previous owner was Kepler himself, who through his revolutionary discovery of the elliptical orbit of the planets established the heliocentric worldview.
The copy of Copernicus' work kept by the university library was before studied by Johannes Kepler. Originally it belonged to the Nuremburg Councilman Hieronymus Schreiber. It was given to him by the printer of the book Johannes Petreius. The gift mark is on the bottom edge of the title page and reads: D. Hieronymo Schreiber, Petreius dd [dono dedit] 1543.
Schreiber notes there in handwriting that the anonymous preface of the book was not written by Copernicus, but rather by the theologian Andreas Osiander. This man had suggested to Copernicus to present his revolutionary heliocentric worldview as a hypothesis. This should have misled the Church's censorship and disguise the radical impact of the theory. Copernicus refused this suggestion. When his book was printed in Nuremburg after his death, Osiander became its editor and added the anonymous preface, wherein the new worldview was treated as just a hypothesis. On account of Schreiber's reference to the writer of the preface Kepler – when he came into possession of the copy – discovered that Copernicus' discovery was not just a new form of calculating. Both Schreiber and Kepler studied the book intensely, as can be recognized by the numerous handwritten annotations on the pages.
When and how Kepler's copy found its way to the university library is not known. However, we do know that already in the year the work was first printed, 1543, a copy was acquired for the library of the faculty for philosophy by the Leipzig professor Leonhard Wolff. Later this copy was sold as a duplicate. Leonhard Wolff's proof of purchase was glued it into the newly acquired Kepler copy.
Incidentally a student of Copernicus taught at Leipzig University. Georg Joachim Rheticus (1514-1574) lectured twice – between 1542 and 1545 and between 1549 and 1551 – here as a professor of mathematics and astronomy. Rheticus was by all accounts the one who encouraged Copernicus to publish his major work.
(Slider, Fig. 2) Since the founding of Leipzig University in 1409 books were in use, including since the second half of the 15th century also printed books. The libraries of the four faculties – Theology, Medicine, Law, and Philosophy – had different locations all over town. In 1543 the then rector Caspar Borner (1492-1547) officially founded the university library, in order to assemble the collections of the monasteries, which were closed due to the Reformation. In 1682 the faculty libraries were unified with the university library.
The so called 'Mittelpaulinum' housed the University Library from 1543 to 1891. Interested scholars could check out books from the library, which went by the names of 'Bibliotheca Paulina' or 'Academic Library'. Already by the middle of the 16th century the university library was the largest library in Saxony, with around 6,000 printed books and roughly 750 manuscripts. In 1891, when the library received its new building, the holdings had reached 440,000 volumes; after the year 2000 it had reached over 5 million volumes.
Desiderius Erasmus: Novum Instrumentum [New Tool], Basel: Froben, 1516 (Slider, Fig. 3)
Erasmus dedicated this edition of the Bible to Pope Leo X. The dedication letter is adorned at the edges, in a style typical for Renaissance art: turkeys, dolphins, cornucopias, and mythical creatures. Previously no printed edition of the New Testament had such adornments.
Erasmus von Rotterdam (1465-1536) edited the Greek text of the New Testament under the title 'Novum Instrumentum' [New Tool]. He aimed for an edition with a quality reconstruction of the Greek text. Erasmus worked quite fast, in order to preempt the Spanish cardinal Francisco Ximenes de Cisneros (1436-1517), who was working on a similar edition. In 1519 a corrected edition of Erasmus' work appeared, which Luther used as the basis for his translation of the Bible into German.
The book is from the library of Johannes von Schröter (1513-1593), a professor of medicine in Jena. Most likely the book came directly to the university library after his death in 1593 .
Johann Jacob Scheuchzer: Physica sacra [Holy Physics], Volume 1, Augsburg, 1731 (Slider, Fig. 4)
[Exeg. App. 145:1, Table 14]
In the picture displayed here there are not only many different kinds of birds but also a drawing of a bird embryo. The copper engraving belongs to a work illustrating the Bible, which not only presents every kind of animal but also passes scientific information along.
The Zurich scholar Johann Jakob Scheuchzer combined natural history with Bible research in his four-volume work about 'holy physics'. He saw the greatness of God proved both in scholarly investigations as well as in the religious contemplation of nature, its beauty and multiplicity. With over 2,000 pages and with almost 800 high quality copper engravings, Scheuchzer's bible commentary is one of the most noteworthy printed books of the 18th century and a fundamental work of the so called 'Physico-Theology'.
In 1840 the Leipzig councilman Otto Moritz Stübel (1797-1849) purchased the Physica sacra from an unknown previous owner. The heirs of Stübel gave the work to the university library after his death.
The Deeds and Stories of the laudably Warlike and highly Regarded Hero and Knight Tewrdannckhs, Nuremburg: Johann Schönsperger the Elder, 1517 (Slider, Fig. 5)
The knight Theuerdank must survive adventures, because opponents place pitfalls and hindrances in his way. The painting number 73 shows how the begrudging Unnfalo lights on fire the timber room in which Theuerdank rests, but luckily he awakes on time: 'Then naturally the man lies sleeping / He jumped soon from the bed / immediately he stabbed through the chamber door / no harm happened to the hero.'
The Theuerdank is a romance in the form of a verse epic, probably written by Emperor Maximilian I himself. Therein the adventures of the knight Theuerdank who wants to free the maiden Ernreich are told in many details.
Of the printed works incited by the bibliophile Emperor Maximilian I, this is the most famous. It is furnished with 118 woodcuts by Hans Schäufelin, Hans Burgkmair and Leonhard Beck. For this work a new typography was made to order, which was similar to the Emperor's 'Kanzleischrift' and became a precursor to the later Fraktur typeface.
The book was acquired by the university library in 1939 from an antiquarian bookseller.
Peter Apian: Astronomicum Caesareum [Imperial Atlas of Astronomy] Ingolstadt: Georg and Peter Apian, 1540 (Slider, Fig. 6)
[Libri. sep. 12]
This star map is in the tradition of ancient astronomy. It displays 48 constellations with 1,025 stars; they are laid out in a traditional reckoning, as though they were viewed from outside a sphere upon which they are drawn. In later star maps the opposite view was taken – that is, from within a sphere – as the night sky presents itself to the human eye.
Peter Apian (1495-1552) was the court mathematician of Emperor Charles V and a professor at Ingolstadt University. There he printed in his own print shop mathematical and cartographical literature. His major work, both as an astronomer and a printer, is the 'Imperial Atlas of Astronomy,' a foundational text of astronomy. The work is furnished with 41 multicolor whole page illustrations, including 21 with moving discs.
This copy of the university library is from the old holdings of the philosophy faculty and was acquired by the dean Ambrosius Lobwasser in 1542.
Edward Kelley: Writings, without place or year (Slider, Fig. 7)
Here a chemical process is explained in a sequence of richly colored pictures. The transforming processes in the alembic are named step by step and are presented as images. The completion of the chemical process (at that time called alchemical) is fixation and consolidation. This is represented with a cherub holding a crown.
The author Edward Kelley (1555-1597) was one of the most famous English alchemists of the late 16th century. He was invited by Emperor Rudolf II to the imperial residence in Prague. However, Kelley did not succeed in producing gold and was imprisoned in Burg Pürglitz, near Prague. Kelley died there in 1597, giving rise to different legends according to which he either perished while attempting to escape or committed suicide.
The manuscript originally belonged to Emperor Rudolf II. Through unknown ways it eventually came into the possession of Hermann Leyser (1811-1843) in 1838, who was employed as the librarian of the Leipzig university library. In his will Leyser left the book to the University Library.
Ein Kosmos des Wissens. Weltschrifterbe in Leipzig (Katalog zur gleichnamigen Ausstellung in der Bibliotheca Albertina 26. März bis 31. Mai 2009), hg. v. Ulrich Johannes Schneider, Leipzig 2009
Das Buch in Antike, Mittelalter und Neuzeit. Sonderbestände der Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig, hg. v. Thomas Fuchs, Christoph Mackert und Reinhold Scholl, Wiesbaden 2012 (Schriften und Zeugnisse zur Buchgeschichte 20)
Facsimile edition of De revolutionibus from the holdings of Harvard University
Latin version of 'De revolutionibus' on Wikisource
Short scientific historical introduction on the website of the Kepler Society
Article on Leipzig in: Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände