Explanation of lunar phases by Abu l-Rayhan al-Biruni (d. after 1048) for Lady Rayhana from Khwarazm, MS London, British Library, Or. 3849, f. 31b; al-Biruni, Book of the Stars, copied in 1435.

Working Group (2017-2023)

Visualization and Material Cultures of the Heavens in Eurasia and North Africa (4000 BCE–1700 CE)


Contact: Anna Jerratsch

This working group, consisting of an international team of researchers, examines the visual representations of different aspects of the heavens from deities to demons and from stars to weather phenomena on diverse material objects and media like paintings, sculptures, instruments, stone tablets, coins, textiles, manuscripts, murals, or books.

The working group’s goal is to investigate the roles of and relationships between texts, visual specimens, iconographic forms, and material objects in the production, reproduction, and crosscultural movements of astral knowledge over almost 6000 years. It aims at offering a rich and broad array of possibilities for interdisciplinary studying contacts, commonalities, overlaps, differences, and ruptures across different territories, time periods, social organizations, and linguistic communities. The materiality of such visual representations unveils movements of concepts, values, and lifestyles across social strata within a given society as well as the stability or fluidity of their subsets and thus provides access to sociocultural complexities of individual, communal, societal, and cross-cultural modes of knowledge practices, organizing relations and human interactions with natural phenomena and the celestial realm on different sociocultural levels.

An annotated image database has been created, which currently consists of a collection of more than 2500 images and objects of the heavens or of celestial phenomena covering both the spatial and temporal breadth envisioned in the project and documenting the multiple materials employed for those visualizations. The growing database serves as a central research tool and reflects the collaborative endeavor to investigate processes of knowledge formation, exchange, appropriation, and transformation in Eurasia and North Africa with regard to astronomy, astrology, meteorology, the formation of myths, political and religious rituals, healing and medical theories, and the organization of time and everyday life.

In the beginning of 2021, the working group entered its second phase by implementing two new, long-term individual research projects focusing on ancient Greece and Rome and early modern Western Europe. Further new research projects related to the themes and goals of the working group are intended to broaden the international team of scholars through different formats of collaboration and cooperation.

News & Press

Call for participation in "Visualizations of the Heavens" Database Summer workshops


Past Events

Thematic Cluster: Visualizing Cosmologies


Visualization of Heavens I


Visualization of Heavens II


Visualization Project Meeting


The Book of Felicity: Time and Fortune at the Ottoman Court


Local Gazetteers Research Tools (LoGart)


The Chinese Reception of Islamic and European Astronomy: Starmaps Produced by Jesuits in China


The Unicorn-Lion Law: Affirming the Correct Standard of Comparison for Scholarship in the Humanities


Sound & Science: Digital Histories—a Database in the History of Acoustics



Brentjes, S., & Schäfer, D. (Eds.). (2020). Imagining the Heavens: Historiographical Challenges and Eurasian Perspectives [Special Issue]. NTM,28/3.

Read More

Brentjes, S. (2018). Visualization and Material Cultures of the Heavens in Eurasia and North Africa. In S. Schmidtke (Ed.), Near and Middle Eastern Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, 1935–2018 (pp. 134-153). Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press.

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Brentjes, S. (2014). Safavid art, science, and courtly education in the seventeenth century. In N. Sidoli, & G. Van Brummelen (Eds.), From Alexandria, through Baghdad: surveys and studies in the ancient Greek and Medieval Islamic mathematical sciences in honor of J. L. Berggren (pp. 487-502). Berlin [u.a.]: Springer.

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