Arts of the Islamic World & India including Fine Rugs and Carpets

Arts of the Islamic World & India including Fine Rugs and Carpets

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 205. A large and rare Mughal engraved brass celestial globe, attributable to Diya al-Din ibn Muhammad or his workshop, Lahore, 17th century, with later stand.

A large and rare Mughal engraved brass celestial globe, attributable to Diya al-Din ibn Muhammad or his workshop, Lahore, 17th century, with later stand

Auction Closed

October 27, 03:41 PM GMT


700,000 - 900,000 GBP

Lot Details


of spherical form, cast as single hollow sphere, three rectangular plugs (the first two plugs now lost, there remain just the holes), engraved with astrological markings and symbols, including the figures of all the forty-eight Ptolemaic constellations and zodiac signs which are named, the stars represented by small silver roundels, with a modern bespoke four-legged cradle

24cm. diam. 

Ex-private collection, Berlin, since 1970s.
The present globe, although unsigned, is attributable to Diya al-Din Muhammad or to his workshop in Lahore. A fourth generation member of the most distinguished family of Mughal instrument makers, Diya al-Din's family ‘workshop’ was founded in the mid-sixteenth century by his great grandfather Ilah-Dad, the Court Astronomer to the Emperor Humayun. His grandfather, father and uncle, as well as his two cousins all continued in this family business until the end of the seventeenth century. This globe is a rare survivor of this tradition. 

The astrolabe and the celestial globe were the most important astronomical instruments of the Middle Ages. Though invented in the Greek antiquity, they were further improved in the Islamic world, from where they were transmitted westwards to Europe and eastwards to India. It is not known when exactly they reached India. The extant specimens pertain to the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

In the Islamic world, the globe was first made as two shallow hemispheres which were then joined together, the line of joint being marked as the celestial equator. A significant innovation was made in the construction of the globe in India, where it was cast as single hollow spheres by the cire perdue, or the lost wax, method. Qaim Muhammad of Lahore perfected this technique. Some thirty-three celestial globes made by him and other members of his family between the years 1623 and 1691 are known.

Qaim’s son, Diya al-Din Muhammad, produced most of these seamless globes. There are extant nineteen globes signed by him and six that can be attributed to him on stylistic grounds. The constellation figures on his globes, especially the anthropomorphic figures, are technically and artistically far superior to those drawn by his father. Diya al-Din’s outlines are bold and anatomically correct; the faces are often in three-quarters profile, with clear depiction of the eyebrows, eyes, nose and mouth. He pays greater attention also to the clothing and ornaments. Quite often he attempts to integrate the calligraphy with the drawing in the sense that he engraves the names of constellation figures in such a manner that they look like decorations on the clothing.

It must be noted that all the globes made by Diya al-Din are not identical copies of one another. Like his astrolabes, his celestial globes also are made of different sizes, with diameters ranging from 60 mm to 217 mm. Occasionally there are also variations in the delineation of the constellation figures. These can be due to the size of the globe or due to different assistants.

The present globe

The present globe is a large one with a diameter of about twenty-four centimeters. It carries no signature or date. But the iconography of the constellation figures clearly suggests that it was made by Diya al-Din Muhammad or at his workshop. As will be shown below, there is a close resemblance with the unsigned celestial globe which is now with the Raza Library at Rampur in northern India and, to some extent, also with the Smithsonian globe.


This brass globe is cast as single hollow sphere by the lost wax method. Three rectangular plugs were inserted; one on the celestial equator slightly to the west of the vernal equinox, the second just below the equator where the figure of Hydra crosses the equator, and the third within the figure of Argo Navis. The first two plugs are now lost, there remain just the holes; in the hole near Hydra cracks have developed at two opposite corners; the third one inside Argo Navis is intact.

There are three large dents in the globe obviously caused by careless handling. The first is near the northern equatorial pole between the figures of Ursa Major and Ursa minor, the second below the figure of Argo Navis covering the two rudders, and the third near the southern equatorial pole. There are several pit marks all over surface of the globe. The stand and the rings are missing.


The celestial equator and the ecliptic are represented by double bands. In the celestial equator, the inner band is divided in 1° and the outer band in 5°. The outer band is numbered in 5s from 5 to 360 in Abjad notation. In the ecliptic, the inner band is divided in 1° and the outer band in 5°. In the outer band each zodiac sign is numbered separately from 5 to 30 also in Abjad notation. The names of the zodiac signs are engraved along the ecliptic, from left to right, in very large letters, with the epithet burj (sign). The Tropic of Capricorn and Tropic of Cancer are drawn respectively to the north and south of the equator. Six ecliptic latitude circles are drawn at right angles to the ecliptic which converge at the ecliptic poles in the north and in the south. Some of these circles are labelled as dairat ard (ecliptic latitude circle). The two poles of the equator are named qutb shumali (north pole) and quṭb janubi (south pole). Holes are made at these poles for the axis.

Starting from the point of the vernal equinox, the figures of the zodiac signs are engraved on the ecliptic from left to right, in the conventional manner, together with their names.

Constellation figures

What distinguishes this globe are the pictorial representations of the constellations. The globe appears to have been engraved with the figures of all the forty-eight Ptolemaic constellations along with their Arabic names. Moreover, the positions of some 1020 fixed stars are marked with inlaid silver points of three different magnitudes; some of these are accompanied by their Arabic names.

The constellation figures — whether they are animals, reptiles, fishes, or humans — are drawn with great care, together with their Arabic names with the prefix ṣurat (figure). Interestingly all the animate figures are endowed with eyes like the human eyes, with almond-shaped eyes with eyebrows above and round pupils inside, whether it is the Great Bear, or the reptile Serpens, or the fish Piscis Austrinus. Coming to the animal figures, in Ursa Major, its mane is drawn with a series of oblique strokes and the claws in all its four paws are drawn clearly. In Pegasus, great care is shown in drawing its long mane and the right wing.

In the reptile figures like Draco, Hydra and Serpens, innumerable tiny scales are meticulously engraved on their long bodies. More interesting are their heads; in the case of Serpens, a long forked tongued issues out its gaping mouth; its eye is like the human eye, and it has even an ear. The head closely resembles the same on the Smithsonian globe.

The anthropomorphic figures display the engraver’s artistic skill. We many begin with the four figures in the northern hemisphere, namely Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, and Perseus. These are well-known figures in the Greek mythology. Cassiopeia, wife of Cepheus, King of Ethiopia, boasted that she was fairer than Juno. To punish her for this presumption, Poseidon sent the sea monster to ravage Ethiopia. Poseidon could only be appeased by exposing Andromeda, daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, to the fury of the sea monster. She was accordingly chained to the rocks on the seacoast. Luckily, she was rescued by Perseus, who mounted on the flying horse Pegasus, slew Medusa, and turned the sea monster Cetus into stone by showing it Medusa’s severed head. All these mythological men, women and beasts were elevated to the stellar heaven and occupy a part of the surface of the celestial globe.

The Arabs who produced the first celestial globes leant the shapes and positions of these figures from the Greek celestial globes but were not aware of the nomenclature or the mythological significance of these figures. In some cases, they merely transliterated the names. Thus, Cepheus and Perseus became Qiqaqus and Barsaus. In other cases, the figures were given such names which describe their physical appearance: Hercules is designated as al-Jathi (the kneeling one), Cassiopeia as Dhat al-Kursi (the one with the chair) and Andromeda as Marah al-Musalsalah (the chained women), but she is generally depicted without any chains.

The iconography of the constellation figure Cepheus engraved on the present globe resembles to a large extent the figure of Cepheus on the Rampur globe and on the Smithsonian globe. He wears a conical cap with a triple plume, a long tunic tied at waist by a thin sash, and elaborately patterned knee-high boots. His face is in profile; the nose, mouth, and chin are clearly drawn, so also the eye and the ear. The beard is indicated by a series of oblique strokes. By bending his left knee and raising his right arm, he seems to be remonstrating to his wife against her audacity.

The name of the constellation surat Qiqaus is engraved vertically on the tunic as if it is decoration on the garment. Inlaid silver pins mark the positions of several stars within the constellation, but just one of these on the heel of the forward foot is named al-rai (Gamma Cephei).

Cepheus’s wife Cassiopeia is shown as seated on a chair to the south of the kneeling Cepheus. This constellation also closely resembles the same on the Rampur globe with minor variations. Here the chair is highly ornate, the short legs are shaped like hour glasses; the side of the seat and the back are decorated with a floral pattern; the two backrests are topped with trifoliate ornaments. Cassiopeia is shown in front view. Her eyebrows, almond-shaped eyes and nose are well drawn. The curly strands of hair fall on either side of the face up to the chin. The sleeves of the tunic are indicated by two parallel lines at the wrists. While the Rampur globe shows the outlines of her long tunic, here this detail is omitted. There is just a long sash falling down her legs, with two elaborate loops below the waist. Her feet are clad in shapely boots. With her left hand she is holding the back post of her chair and with the right hand she is pointing towards her daughter Andromeda. The name of the constellation is engraved as surat Dhat al-Kursi to the right of her face. The star on her raised elbow is entitled Kaff al-Khadib (“the dyed hand”, Beta Cassiopeiae). The star above the knee is named as Rukbat Dhat al-Kursi (“the knee of the lady with the chair”, Delta Cassiopeiae).

Andromeda is also shown in front view, but her face is not well drawn. The eyebrows and the eyes are neatly done, but not the nose. As is the case of Cassiopeia, strands of curly hair fall on either side of the face. She is draped in a long tunic which reaches up to her calves. The sleeves are indicated by parallel lines at the wrists and at the upper arms; a sash is tied at the waist; its patterned ends fall vertically. The lower part of tunic is flared. Below the tunic, the legs and feet are bare. A bead necklaces adorns her neck.

Her posture is very dramatic. She stands with outstretched hands, right arm pointing upwards and the left arm down words, as if she is asking to be rescued from the monster Cetus. Across her upper body, the title of the constellation is written as decorative element of the tunic: surat Marah al-Musalsalah. The star on her right ankle is named rijl al-musalsalah (“foot of the chained one”, Gamma Andromedae).

Perseus, who comes to rescue Andromeda, strikes a heroic pose, holding a long sword aloft with the left hand and Medusa’s head with the right hand. He wears a long tunic, knee-length boots with spurs, but with a pattern that is different from the boots of Cepheus. On the right side of his body is engraved the designation surat Barsaus. In Greek mythology, Medusa’s head is covered by snakes. In the Arab iconography, the snakes became stands of hair and the blood dripping out of the severed head was reinterpreted as the beard. Accordingly, Medusa’s is drawn on this globe with long strands of hair, eyebrows, eyes, nostrils, moustache and long tapering beard. A star on the head is named ras al-ghul (“ghoul’s head”, Beta Persei, Algol).

Hercules, sometimes unfamiliarity with the mythological background leads to amusing depictions. Following the Greek convention, the two figures of Ophiuchus and Hercules are drawn on the Islamic globes with short skirt-like kilts. Occasionally, the outlines of Hercules’s arms end in half-circles on his chest. In some globes, these half circles are turned feminine breasts. So far, three globes with feminine Hercules are known, at the Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad; at the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh; and at the Raza Library, Rampur. The present globe is the fourth example.

The figure of Hercules on this globe closely resembles the same on the Rampur globe with minor variations. The posture and the facial features are exactly the same. He bends on his left knee, the left arm holding a sickle is raised high, while the right arm is slanted downwards. Long strands of curly hair stretch on either side of the face; the eyebrows, eyes, pupils, nose and the left ear are carefully drawn. The mouth is indicated by a short horizontal stroke. Sleeves are suggested by lines at the two wrists, otherwise the upper part of the body is entirely bare. The lower part is covered by a very short skirt. The skirt here differs from that on the Rampur globe. Here it is with many vertical folds and wavy hemline.

The title of the constellation is engraved vertically between the breasts as surat Jathi (figure of the kneeling one). The star on his forehead is named ras al-Jathi (“head of the kneeling one”, Alpha Herculis) and that on the right knee Rukbat al-Jathi (“knee of the kneeling one”, Tau Herculis).

The southern hemisphere is less populated, but includes one prominent figure, namely Centaurus, the half-horse and half-man. Both the halves, the rearing horse and the bearded and broad-shouldered human wearing a jaunty hat are very powerfully drawn. The horse is realistically depicted with a long tail and hooves. The human torso is clothed in a tunic which is closed in the front, with a sash at the waist. The face is shown in profile; the beard is represented by a series of oblique strokes. On the head is a conical hat, with a bead at the top and an ornate brim around. With the right hand, he is holding vine leaves and with the left hand a wild beast by its rear legs. This wild beast named Lupus is the forty-fifth constellation.

The designation of the constellation surat Qinturus is engraved across the equine body. A star on the hoof of the higher foreleg carries the name rijl Qinturus (“foot of the centaur”, Alpha Centauri); it is the third brightest star in the heavens and the nearest one to us.


Emilie Savage-Smith, Islamicate Celestial Globes: Their History, Construction, and Use, Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology, number 46, Smithsonian Press, Washington, D.C., 1985.

Sreeramula Rajeswara Sarma, Astronomical Instruments in the Rampur Raza Library, Rampur Raza Library, 2003.

Sreeramula Rajeswara Sarma, A Descriptive Catalogue of Indian Astronomical Instruments – third revised edition, 2019; accessible online at

We are grateful to Professor Sreeramula Rajeswara Sarma for his analysis and write up of this globe.