Armillary Spheres

As mankind moved from the Dark Ages into the Age of Reason, some adventuresome folks explored the earth while others explored the night skies. Maps of Earth and Heavens were created, some of which did not necessarily conform to the accepted philosophical views, but nonetheless provided the foundation for modern thought and understanding. One of these models, the armillary sphere, is a model of the cosmos as it was perceived before the 1600's. The term "armillary" is derived from the Greek term "armilla" meaning "bracelets or rings". The rings represent the movements of known celestial objects in relationship to the central sphere. The central sphere was really the point of controversy and contention - was the earth the center of the universe, and if not, what was? Numerous variations were constructed depending on the prevailing philosophical theory of the time. For example, Ptolmey's sphere, created around 130 AD, displayed the earth as the center and, despite its scientific and astronomical incorrectness, it was the one generally used to illustrate the movement of the solar system. Conversely, Copernicus in the early 1500's refuted the accepted medieval geocentric premise with his hypothesis that the sun was the center of the universe. These armillary spheres became extremely complicated astronomical instruments used for instruction and calculation of movement of celestial objects and events. The entire arrangement revolved with of rings representing the firmament, meridian, zodiac (ecliptic of the sun) horizon, meridian rings divided by degrees, the celestial equator, and other circles in the sky. As modern thought progressed, eventually the scientific armillary spheres became historical artifacts and the simplified, ornamental armillary sphere was adopted as an art form in the late 1700's. Today most original surviving instruments are in museums while many ornamental spheres from the 1700 to 1800's and modern replicas can be viewed in places such as Hearst Castle. This timeless symbology is still pertinent today as man continues to search the heavens for knowledge of how we relate to the whole universe.**


Personal armillary spheres can be configured to any combination required. Traditional spheres can be used as a basis for more elaborate constructions providing a significant level of complexity.


Materials to use:


--Medium Density Fibre Board (MDF)  (for the larger rings and main frame and base)

--Acrylic                                                          (inner transparent rings and for reinforcement)

--Aluminium                                                    (rings based upon linear strips)

--Plastic components                                      (for miscellaneous pivoting components)


Complexity is considered an important factor in construction. The more complex the sphere, the more visually interesting the piece becomes. 


** Text extracted from the Planetary Visions website relating to the history of the armillary sphere -


A visual display of the many types of armillary spheres can be seen here.