Early Astronomy in the University of Michigan Collections

Johannes Schöner

Born in Karlstadt am Main, Germany, in 1477, Johannes Schöner studied Theology at the University of Erfurt. He was ordained a Catholic priest and was appointed chaplain in Hallstatt near Bamberg. But Johannes Schöner’s real interests were almost exclusively scholarly: he became an expert in various disciplines, including astronomy, astrology, geography, mathematics, and the making of scientific instruments. In Bamberg he founded a printing shop in his own house, specializing in the publication of globes, maps, and astronomical books. For instance, in 1521 he published his Aequatorium astronomicum, which included movable disks to represent the motions of the planets. In 1525, his career as a priest suddenly ended due to the threats against Catholics during the so-called Peasant War (1524-1525). Thus Schöner moved to Nuremberg, converted to Lutheranism, and was appointed teacher of mathematics in Philip Melanchthon’s Gymnasium. In Nuremberg he partnered with the renowned printer, Johannes Petreius, who would publish Schöner’s easy-to-use simplified version of the Alphonsine Tables: Tabulae astronomicae, quas vulgo, quia omni difficultate & obscuritate carent, resolutas vocant. But Schöner is probably best remembered for his role in encouraging Georg Joaquin Rheticus, a young professor of mathematics from Wittenberg, to visit Nicolaus Copernicus in Frauenburg. Eventually, Rheticus would choose Nuremberg, and Petreius’ press, for the publication of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus.

Astronomical Tables

Select Bibliography

  • Rosen, Edward. 2008. “Schöner, Johannes.” In Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Vol. 12 (digital edition). Detroit, MI: Charles Scribner’s Sons: 199-200.
  • Schottenloher, Karl. 1907. “Johann Schöner und seine Hausdruckerei.” Zentralblatt für Bibliothekswesen 24: 145–155.

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