A Professor’s Personal Copy

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 39/52

Regiomontanus, Tabulae directionum et profectionum; University of Pennsylvania, Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection, LJS 172, pp. 146–47

Johannes Müller von Königsberg (1436–76), better known as Regiomontanus, was a Central European astronomer whose peripatetic career brought him into dialogue with some of the key humanist thinkers and patrons in the period following the fall of Constantinople in 1453. He was one of the founders of modern observational astronomy; his works exerted a profound influence on Nicolaus Copernicus and were used by Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama as navigational aids. As we’ll see, this particular manuscript turns out to be quite closely linked to Regiomonatnus’ activity. But first, some background.

As a student at the University of Vienna, Regiomontanus became a disciple of Georg von Peuerbach (1423–61), transcribing the latter’s lectures on Ptolemaic astronomy. While visiting Vienna in 1460, the illustrious Greek scholar and Catholic convert Basilios Bessarion invited Peuerbach to undertake a new Latin translation of Ptolemy’s Almagest, as he judged a recent translation by George of Trebizond to be lacking. Though Peuerbach’s knowledge of Greek was not sufficient to accomplish this task, he undertook to produce an abridgement or epitome of the Almagest, which Regiomontanus completed after his teacher’s death the following year. Regiomontanus then became a member of Bessarion’s household and traveled through Northern Italy in the early 1460s in search of forgotten astronomical and mathematical manuscripts.

In 1467, Regiomontanus and Bessarion’s astrologer Martin Bylica were called to work for the humanist archbishop of Esztergom, János Vitéz, who had recently been named chancellor of the Academia Istropolitana, a short-lived university established in Pozsony (present-day Bratislava) by the enlightened, scholarly King Matthias Corvinus (1443–90).1 While serving as the institution’s first professor of mathematics, Regiomontanus completed his Tabulae directionum et profectionum, a series of tables that allowed for the positions of celestial bodies to be determined mathematically with unprecedented accuracy when compared to the existing Alphonsine Tables that had been developed at the court of Alfonso X of Castile in the mid-thirteenth century. Regiomontanus’s tables (pp. 35–150), which take up the majority of the present manuscript and which are partially based on observations he made in Padua in 1464, continue the Ptolemaic system of their predecessors, but with added tables of tangents and sines that allowed for a much higher degree of predictive accuracy (pp. 168–85). While in Hungary, Regiomontanus became a member of Corvinus’s household, which was a center of Italian humanism and scholarship in Central Europe.

In 1471, as the Academia Istropolitana floundered, Regiomontanus returned to Nuremberg and attempted to print his tables. However, as the existing presses were unable to achieve the degree of accuracy he sought, he founded a printing press of his own in 1472, four years before his death. The first edition of the Tabulae directionum he printed2 does not survive, nor does a Venetian edition from 1485,3 though a 1490 version is fairly widespread (Augsburg: Erhard Ratdolt). As the tables were acknowledged to be superior to any predecessors, several manuscript copies circulated prior to the print versions,4 among which is a presentation copy now in Wolfenbüttel.5 The Table of Sines is found in only three other manuscripts.6 The present manuscript additionally contains the dedicatory letter to Archbishop Vitez (pp. 1–2) and a thirty-one paragraph introduction (pp. 2–33). Except for minor variants, the text is identical to the first printed edition.

This is an image of 33 from University of Pennsylvania LJS 172: Tabulae directionum et profectionum, by Regiomontanus, Joannes, 1436-1476, from Austria or Hungary, dated to circa 1476.
LJS 172, p. 33 (detail of colophon: “P[er] m[a]g[istr]em Johanne[m] de Kuppferberg”)

This copy of the Tables is also more closely connected to Regiomontanus’s time at the Academia Istropolitana than previously recognized. Until now, the copyist who signed the introductory text, a certain “Johannes de Kuppferperg” (p. 33), was not precisely identified. Not a professional scribe, Johannes Reybel de Kupferberg was a lecturer in astronomy at the University of Vienna, where he gave seminars on the Theoricae planetarum (1456), the Almagest (1457 and 1458), the work of Euclid (1461), Ptolemy’s Centiloquium (1477), and the Sphaera materialis, probably Sacrabosco’s Tractatus de sphaera (1479). In the late 1460s and early 1470s, de Kupferberg was seconded to the Academia Istropolitana and apparently became a student of Regiomontanus’s;7 he is named as such in the preface to the first edition of Peuerbach’s and Regiomontanus’s Tables of Eclipses.8 De Kupferberg should not be confused with another, somewhat older individual of the same name, who taught Philosophy and Logic at the University of Vienna in roughly the same years. A fourteenth-century copy of Guillaume Durand’s Rationale divinorum officiorum now in Vienna contains his ownership inscription.9When the manuscript appeared in the trade in the twentieth century, the identity of de Kupferberg and the volume’s former presence in the Benedictine monastery at Seitenstetten were not noted. Nor is the manuscript included in a recent monograph on the Seitenstetten manuscripts (Wagendorfer 2011).10 However, the manuscript is recorded in a manuscript inventory produced at the abbey in 1800,11 and lists compiled by visitors in 1831 (Chmel 1836) and 1913 (Wolkan 1913).12 The foundation sold some volumes from its collection during the 1920s, which is presumably when the present item was deaccessioned; the 1800 manuscript catalogue entry is marked with a later “deest” note indicating that it was not in place, but this annotation may date from the twentieth century. How the work transited from its likely place of production in Bratislava to Seitenstetten in central Austria in the first place remains a mystery.

  1. Darin Hayton, “Martin Bylica at the Court of Matthias Corvinus: Astrology and Politics in Renaissance Hungary” Centaurus 49 (2007): 185–98.
  2. Ludwig Hain, Repertorium bibliographicum, in quo libri omnes ab arte typographica inventa usque ad annum MD. typis expressi ordine alphabetico vel simpliciter enumerantur vel adcuratius recensentur, vol. 2, part 1 (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1831), no. 13799).
  3. Hain 1831, 13800.
  4. Ernst Zinner, Regiomontanus, His Life and Work, trans. Ezra Brown (Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1990), 231–32.
  5. Herzog August Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf. 69.9 Aug. 2°. See Regina CermannBeschreibung einer problematischen Corvine: Cod. Guelf. 69.9 Aug. 2°” in Corvina Augusta: Die Handschriften des Königs Matthias Corvinus in der Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, eds. Edina Zsupán and Christian Heitzmann, 122–51 (Budapest: Bibliotheca Nationalis Hungariae, 2014).
  6. See Zinner 1990, 236–47.
  7. Emőke Rita Szilágyi, “Johannes de Kupferberg, az Academia Istropolitana tanára.” Magyar Könyvszemle 128, no. 2 (2012): 375–80.
  8. Vienna: Winterberger, 1514
  9. ONB, cod. 4642; see Veronika Pirker-Aurenhammer in Andreas Fingernagel, Katharina Hranitzky, Veronika Pirker-Aurenhammer, Martin Roland, and Friedrich Simander, Illuminierten Handschriften und Inkunabeln der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek: Mitteleuropäische Schulen: ca. 1350–1410, Textband (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2002), 378, no. 177.
  10. Martin, Wagendorfer, Die Handschriften aus der alten Wiener Universitätsbibliothek in der Stiftsbibliothek Seitenstetten (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2011).
  11. Seitenstetten, Stiftsbibliothek, Codicum manuscriptorum bibliothecae Seitenstettensis, tom. I, 136.
  12. Joseph Chmel, Bericht über eine im Jahre 1831 unternommene kleine Reise zum Behufe der Oesterr. Geschichts-Quellen-Sammlung,” Österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichts- und Staatskunde 2 (1836): 379–80; Rudolf Wolkan, “Aus österreichischen Handschriftenkatalogen. III: Aus den Handschriften des Benediktinerstiftes Seitenstetten,” Österreichische Zeitschrift für Bibliothekswesen 3, vol. 1:17 (1913): 2–7, 186–94.