Saturday, 18. February 2006
The Mercator Celestial Globe

Andromeda ('The Chained Lady' or 'The Princess of Ethiopia'): From Greek myth that relates Andromeda to the nearby constellations of Perseus, Cepheus, and Cassiopeia.

Click all the pictures for a larger view

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Pisces ('The Fish'): In the Zodiac. Representing two fish, bound together by a twisted cord. In Greek lore, the fish are Aphrodite and Eros, her son, who transformed themselves into fish to avoid the monster, Typhon.

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Ursa Minor ('The Little Bear'): Also known as the Little Dipper, the North Star is the bright star at the end of the bear's tail (or the dipper's handle).

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Taurus ('The Bull'): Connected to several Greek myths, in one of which the bull was Zeus in disguise. Part of the Zodiac.

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Gerard Mercator (1512-1594) is best known for the first use, in 1569, of the map projection bearing his name. This was the first projection on which any given compass bearing could be plotted as a straight line, thereby greatly aiding navigation at sea. Mercator was a publisher of maps and atlases, but he is only known to have produced one pair of globes: a terrestrial globe in 1541 and a matching celestial globe in 1551. These globes were produced while Mercator was in Louvain where he had lived since entering the University of Louvain in 1530. Surviving examples of the Mercator globes are rare and the pair at the Harvard Map Collection are the only known matched pair in America.

The Mercator Celestial Globe
Category: Astrology & Astronomy |




The Dragon Robes

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The ancient Chinese conceived the world in terms of five elements–earth, wood, fire, metal, and water–created by the interaction of two fundamental forces: Yin (passive) and Yang (active).

All natural phenomena were caused by the dynamic interaction of the five elements,which corresponded with the five directions of the terrestrial realm (east, south, west, north, and center). The five colors (blue, red, white, black, and yellow), the animal deities (dragon, phoenix, tiger, tortoise, and snake), and the seasons of the year (fall, spring, summer, and winter) were also used to symbolize the five directions. The placement of the symbols on a dragon robe, based on the diagram of the Chinese cosmos, was believed to enhance the wearer’s mystical relationship to the universe.

Earth was the center of the universe, represented by the Yellow Emperor, and was to be ruled by the emperor. The color yellow was reserved for the emperor and the opening within the collar of the dragon robe was understood to represent the center of the world. Once the dragon robe was donned the emperor was firmly in charge on earth.

The use of rich symbols and colors was especially important for rulers who hoped to achieve harmony of the natural and human worlds through performing the correct rituals and ceremonies. The robes were often conceived as abstract representations of the universe, with the emperor (his head, to be exact) at the center, reflecting the view that imperial authority was an integral part of the universal order.


The Chinese word for "dragon" is spelled out in roman characters as either lung or long. In China, the dragon was credited with having great powers that allowed it to make rain and to control floods (by striking the river with its tail, causing it to open and thus divert the floodwaters). dragons transported humans to the celestial realms after death; this belief was so prominent that "to mount the dragon" became a euphemism for dying.

The dragon was described visually as a composite of parts from nine animals: the horns of a deer; the head of a camel; the eyes of a devil; the neck of a snake; the abdomen of a large cockle; the scales of a carp; the claws of an eagle; the paws of a tiger; and the ears of an ox.

The emperor, his sons, high-ranking princes, and high officials who had been rewarded for their duties were permitted to wear robes decorated with five-clawed dragons called long. Other princes, and noblemen of the third and fourth rank, wore robes decorated with four-clawed dragons called mang. Three-clawed dragons decorated the robes worn by fifth-rank officials and selected worthies.

Abstract ideas, hopes, and feelings have traditionally been expressed in China by physical objects. These symbols come from ancient Chinese folklore, philosophy, and religion, or may arise out of visual puns. The popularity of the bat motif, for instance, is based on its association with the word for happiness, which is pronounced in the same way as the word for bat. The Chinese language has many such rebuses that contribute to the rich symbolism of these robes.

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During the Qing dynasty, a complex system of clothing styles and decorative motifs was developed. Qing dynasty fashion reflected the dual influences of the nomadic Manchu conquerors and the sophisticated Han Chinese. This on-line exhibition provides a greater understanding of these objects in their historical context and a brief introduction to the rich symbolism of Chinese design. The dragon robes are not only beautiful objects, but also meaningful expressions of a Chinese worldview.


The Dragon Robes by the San Diego Museum of Art. (English)
Category: Religion & Early Cultures | Symbols & Geometry |


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