Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Ptolemy’s View of the Solar System

National Museum of Australia - Joy of Museums - Ptolemy's View of the Solar System

Ptolemy’s View of the Solar System

Andreas Cellarius created Scenographia Systematis Mundani Ptolemaici (Ptolemy’s View of the Solar System) in 1660. The earth is prominently featured at the centre of the universe, showing the eastern hemisphere with a partially delineated Nova Hollandia (Australia) and a massive southern continent.

This print is a hand-coloured engraved copperplate print published in Harmonia Macrocosmica (Celestial Atlas) by Johannes Janssonius in Amsterdam. Cellarius’s chart illustrates Claudius Ptolemy’s earth-centred model of the universe. Claudius Ptolemy (100 – 70 AD) from Alexandria, Egypt of the Roman Empire time, was a leading Astronomer and Geographer, who postulated that the Earth was at the centre of the universe. Cellarius shows the earth-centric model, with the signs of the zodiac and surrounded by allegorical scenes of classical astronomers working with globes and instruments.

Cellarius’s geographic map of the earth’s landforms incorporated the best geographic knowledge at the time. It demonstrates the partial understanding of the earth’s geography below South-East Asia.

The name Australia is derived from the Latin Terra Australis (“southern land”), a name used for a hypothetical continent in the Southern Hemisphere. When Europeans began visiting and mapping Australia in the 17th century, the name Terra Australis was applied to the new southern continent. In the 19th century, Australia was best known as “New Holland”, a name first applied by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1644.

Bowen- A Complete map of the Southern Continent

1744 Chart of Hollandia Nova and Terra Australis.

The name Australia was popularised by the explorer Matthew Flinders (1774 – 1814), who said it was

“more agreeable to the ear, and an assimilation to the names of the other great portions of the earth”.

The first time that the word “Australia” appears to have been officially used was in 1817 when Governor Macquarie acknowledged the receipt of Flinders’ charts of Australia. The first official published use of the new name came with the 1830 British publication of “The Australia Directory”.

Other historical objects from the National Museum of Australia, featured in “Joy of Museums include the following are some highlights:

  Ptolemy’s View of the Solar System

  • Title:                          Ptolemy’s View of the Solar System
  • Published Name:    Scenographia Systematis Mundani Ptolemaici
  • Author:                     Andreas Cellarius
  • Illustrator:               Gerard & Leonard Valk
  • Publisher:                Johannes Janssonius
  • Place:                        Amsterdam
  • Date:                         1660
  • Colouring:                  Hand Colored
  • Size:                          20 x 17 inches
  • Museum:                  National Museum of Australia


“The more you know, the less you need.”
– Australian Aboriginal saying


Photo Credit: GM 2) See page for author [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons