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6. Piccolomini, Alessandro. De le stelle fisse. Venice, 1540.

Piccolomini's On the Fixed Stars is a prime candidate for the honor of being the "first star atlas," since Piccolomini took some pains to chart the actual positions of the stars, rather than presenting constellation figures with the stars filled in at random. There are forty-seven charts in all (there are forty-eight Ptolemaic constellations, but one was accidentally omitted here). It was not really necessary to eliminate the constellation figures in order to provide accurate charts, as we shall see, but Piccolomini chose to do so. As a result, we get a strikingly different woodcut of the constellation Orion from that presented by the 1482 edition of Hyginus or the Honter planisphere of 1541. Piccolomini also used a magnitude scale, so that brighter stars are represented by larger symbols.

The Piccolomini atlas must have been hugely popular, if we are to judge by the number of editions it went through--at least ten--in the next three decades. We have three other editions besides this one, and interestingly, each has a different set of charts, some produced by woodblocks, some by star symbols set in type. However, later editions are no improvement in accuracy over this one.