The five plates are engraved with astrolabic markings for latitudes 28°, 30°, 31°, 32°, 34°, 35°, 36°, 37° and 38°. In this case 32° would serve Isfahan and 38° would be for Tabriz.
The compact size of this fine astrolabe suggests that it was designed for personal contemplation. The lightly rubbed edges show that this was manipulated by an erudite individual capable of making use of this complicated and very versatile instrument. An astrolabe of similar size dated to circa 1660 but with a later replaced rete was sold at Sotheby’s London, 6 October 2010, lot 150.
This astrolabe is very finely and accurately engraved. The proportions of the lines of latitude are very regular and consistent. The decoration of the scrolling vine is also exemplary displaying finely detailed split palmettes and scrolls of great fluidity. The large palmettes and cusped palmettes are reminiscent of contemporaneous Safavid manuscript illumination. A royal Safavid Qur’an written for Shah Sulayman Safavi (r.1666-94) copied in 1683 has an opening illuminated carpet bifolio displaying a similar combination of palmettes and split palmettes, sold in these Rooms, 17 April 2007, lot 100; and now in the collection of the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha.
The second numeral of the date on this astrolabe has been manipulated slightly. It appears as if the second number 1 has been partially erased in an attempt to transform it into a 0 to make the date read a hundred years earlier. In terms of both the style and the quality of engraving, our astrolabe is clearly early 18th century- and indeed of the highest quality. A number of astrolabes of similar style and date are known. One is in the Musuem of the History of Science in Oxford, signed by ‘Adb al-‘Ali and dated 1707-08. It has a cusped throne which is outlined by cusped palmettes which is very similar to our astrolabe, (inv.40330;http://www.mhs.ox.ac.uk/astrolabe/catalogue/frontReport/Astrolabe_ID=160.html#throne). A much larger astrolabe made as a showpiece for Sultan Husayn (r.1694-1722) dated 1712 AD in the British Museum has a very similar cusped throne with a border composed of split palmettes, (Inv. OA+.369, Sheila Canby, The Golden Age of Persian Art 1501-1722, London, 1999, pl.161, p.169). Another astrolabe dated to circa 1700 in the Museum of the History of Science collection signed by Khalil Muhammad ibn Hasan ‘Ali has a closely related nasta’liq inscription contained within a cusped cartouche which is closely related to our astrolabe, (inv. 35313, http://www.mhs.ox.ac.uk/astrolabe/catalogue/browseReport/Astrolabe_ID=133.html).