Recently, browsing through Gallica, the digital library of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, I have found this book, containing illustrations from the Cosmic Meteorology by Robert Fludd. I was sufficiently intrigued to try to find more about the book, especially because one of the illustrations contained, among other meteorological phenomena, a representation of a tornado.

Robert Fludd (1574 –1637) (image courtesy of Smithsonian Library).

Philosophia Sacra et Vere Christiana seu Meteorologia Cosmica was first published by Théodore de Bry at Frankfurt  in 1623. I was to some extent familiar with the author, Robert Fludd, through the works of Frances Yates (1899 –1981). Robert Fludd (1574 –1637), an English mystic, philosopher, alchemist, scientist and musician, was educated at Oxford and practised medicine in London. In addition to his medical practice, influenced by the doctrines of Paracelsus (1493–1541), he published a large number of books, richly illustrated and covering medical, practical and speculative topics in an attempt to reconcile the mysticism with the science of 17th Century.  In the Cosmic Meteorology, Fludd applies the word meteor not only to meteorological phenomena but also to planets, starts and comets. 

Fig.1 - Frontispiece of Philosophia Sacra et Vere Christiana seu Meteorologia Cosmica  (Frankfurt1623) with engravingsby Matthäus Merian ( 1593 –1650). (image courtesy of Gallica)

 The frontispiece of the book (Fig.1) shows, according to Godwin (1979) the effects of the macrocosmic meteors and in particular of the wind. The wind played a central role in Fludd's medical speculations, since was capable to carry the good (from angels) and the bad (from demons) influences (lower centre). One illustration from the frontispiece shows the beneficial effects of the winds (lower right), the others are showing the detrimental effects: an earthquake, produce by the wind bellow the earth's surface (lower right), a "rain of fire" (upper left), a thunderstorm producing rain, lighting and hail (upper centre) and a thunderstorm at sea (upper right). The left and right middle panels are showing different types of comets (right) and parhelia (sundogs, left).   

The most fascinating illustration by Matthäus Merian (1593 –1650) from Cosmic Meteorology is the Great Meteorological Chart (Fig. 2). In Godwin's (1979) interpretation, God is represented on the top of the chart and the semicircles contains representations of all the meteorological phenomena. Different types of comets are represented first, followed clouds and their associated phenomena: whirlwind and a tornado (turbo and prester as fiery exhalations, left) (Fig. 3),  blood (gutta sanguinia), stone (lapides) and frog (rane) rains and lightning (fulmen) (centre) and hail (grando), rain (pluuia) and shown (nix) (right).  

Below the clouds are represented the twelve winds and at the surface there is an other representation of a whirlwind (turbo) (centre) (Fig. 4).  On the lower left is a list of "meteors sent for man's benefit" (i.e., wind, whirlwinds, cold, ice, rain, lightning) and on the lower right a list of "meteors sent for man's chastisement or punishment" (i.e., fiery whirlwinds, with and without demons; lighting, hail) (Godwind, 1979).    

Fig. 2 - The Great Meteorological Chart from Cosmic Meteorology (1626) by Robert Fludd. (image courtesy of archive.rog) (click here more details).

Fig. 3 - Detail (lower left) from The Great Meteorological Chart showing a whirlwind (turbo) and a tornado (prester, fiery exhalation). (image courtesy of archive.rog)

Fig. 4 - Detail (lower left) from The Great Meteorological Chart showing a whirlwind (turbo). (image courtesy of archive.rog)

The Great Meteorological Chart, despite being a part of a mystical text, is a very interesting summary of the knowledge on meteorological phenomena in the 17th Century.



Godwin, J., 1979: Robert Fludd, Hermetic Philosopher and Surveyor of Two Worlds. Thames and Hudson, p. 96.  

AuthorBogdan Antonescu