Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

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Constellations detail from Plate 28 Haemisphearivm Scenographicum Australe Coeli Stellati Et Terrae (The southern hemisphere of both the starry vault and the earth).

Harmonia Macrocosmica: Beyond the Art of Winemaking

Wine and art have both been inspired by beauty and great thinking over the millennia. One example of superlative beauty and thought can be found in a collection of seventeenth century hand colored engravings owned by Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.

Originally printed in 1660 and often cited as an example of the high art of the Renaissance star atlas, the Harmonia Macrocosmica is a text book rather than a set of maps. The author, Andreas Cellarius, describes the range of philosophies on stellar and planetary movement along with the scientific principles of the era. The geocentric theories of Ptolemy, which suggested that the earth was the center of the universe, are contrasted with those of Copernicus, whose theory puts the sun at the center of our solar system. A third theory by Tycho Brahe attempted to unify the two opposite philosophical camps. Brahe’s version (featured on the cover of this issue) shows the sun revolving around the earth and the rest of the planets revolving around the sun. The book also has sections on the Earth’s climate zones, the sizes of the sun, moon and planets, and the constellations of the zodiac. Historians agree it was this broad overview of knowledge that allowed the book to escape the ban established by Pope Paul V in 1616 as a result of Galileo’s trial for his own work based on Copernican theory.

A complete edition of the Harmonia Macrocosmica contains 29 color illustrations created by the technique known as engraving. This technique stretches back to ancient times as a method for decorating objects especially ones made of metal. With the invention of the printing press in 1440, engraving became associated with printing as a way to create high quality illustrations since it allowed for precise details and multiple impressions. To create an engraving the artist used specialized tools in various sizes and shapes, known as “burins” and “gravers” to cut away the surface of a metal plate. All of the work was done by hand. When the design was completed, ink was rubbed into the incisions and the plate and paper were passed through a press. The pressure from the press transferred the ink onto the paper in the corresponding design. The intricate cross hatching and precision of the geometric shapes in the Cellarius prints speak to the skill of the artist who created the plates. Each print was individually hand colored before being bound into the book.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars owns a set of nine of the engravings. Highly detailed, the artist created works that manage to be both precise in their presentation of the theories of the day as well as beautiful. Three of the plates represent the primary scientific theories-Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Brahe. A diagram which shows the relationship between the sizes of the known planets is strikingly abstract. Four illustrations show the constellations as seen from the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. The viewer looks down from the heavens through a transparent orb that shows the stars floating above a corresponding map of the Earth. Philosophers and scientists study the skies in the bottom corners of the illustrations, while angels hover above.