The astrolabe is a well known scientific instrument, commonly found in Islamic art collections. Despite its placement in art museums, it does not receive the same examination or discussion as other metalwork. This leads to errors in dating and place of origin when an instrument that lacks a dedication inscription or a signature.

This study places the astrolabe in an art historical context and not a scientific one.

Much literature has been written on this instrument concentrating on the scientific nature of the instrument or as part of a collection of scientific instruments. Its history, function, place in society and embellishments have been researched and discussed. This study primarily focuses on the development of decorative features found on the astrolabe in comparison to other astrolabes. The main features compared were the throne, the cankabiit, the script, and when pertinent, the scales. To my knowledge, this approach has not been done before. The conclusions of this study are that the astrolabe can be discussed as an object of art. A line of development in the decoration exists that can be traced chronologically, geographically and by imperial styles. The embellishments of the astrolabe respond to trends in metalwork and also display decorative idiosyncrasies unique to the instrument. Indeed, the methodology of art history helps to resolve questions regarding the date and origin of unsigned objects. Overall, the findings in this paper are complimentary to existing research.


School of Humanities and Social Sciences

Date of Award


Online Submission Date


First Advisor

Bernard O'Kane

Committee Member 1

Bernard O'Kane

Committee Member 2

George T. Scanlon

Committee Member 3

Jere Bacharach

Document Type



118 leaves, [24] p. of col. plates

Library of Congress Subject Heading 1

Astrolabes in literature

Library of Congress Subject Heading 2



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Call Number

Thesis 2004/60