Kitab suwar al-kawakib al-thabita (Book of the Images of the Fixed Stars) of al-Sufi

Author: `Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi (Iranian, Rey 903–986 Shiraz)

Object Name: Illustrated manuscript

Date: late 15th century

Geography: Attributed to Iran

Medium: Ink and gold on paper; leather binding

Dimensions: H. 10 3/16 in. (25.8 cm)
W. 7 1/8 in. (18.1 cm)

Classification: Codices

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1913

Accession Number: 13.160.10


The preface to this book discusses the studies available to the author, including those of Ptolemy, ’Utarid, and al-Hajjaj, but points out the errors within them that led al-Sufi to make his new and improved study. He then describes the forty-five constellations, in order of those in the northern hemisphere, the zodiac belt, and the southern hemisphere. For each constellation, he lists the position, brightness, magnitude, and color of the stars within them, provides corrections to Ptolemy's observations, and adds details from the Arab Bedouin tradition. Next to each description are two illustrations of each constellation. The first shows the constellation as seen from the earth, the second from above, the way it was shown on a celestial globe. These illustrations must have been based partly on the classical depictions of the constellations and the figures they resembled, but some changes were introduced because the Greek illustrator misunderstood mythological characters or al-Sufi incorrectly read Ptolemy's original text. Sometimes elements from the Arab descriptions of the constellations were also included in the illustrations, such as for Andromeda, who is shown with a fish across her waist.