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Planetary children of Luna, Medieval house book of the Counts of Waldburg Wolfegg, fol. 17r, Princely Collection, ca. 1470

The astrological concept of planetary children assigns people (as “planetary children” born under the influence of a planet) to each of the seven classical planets[1]) each to one of the seven classical planets, which were thought to transmit their specific qualities to their charges according to a system based on pre-modern cosmology.


The concept, which originated in antiquity, attained great cultural-historical significance in Europe in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance and led to independent textual, verse and pictorial traditions. Vulgar astrological planetary child texts are already known from the Roman imperial period, but did not lead to pictorial representations until around 1300. Planetary child images not only serve as illustrations to corresponding texts in manuscripts, block books, and early prints, but are often added to other lay astrological texts and calendar works. In addition, they appear in the visual arts of Europe up to the 17th century, e.g. as reliefs, sculptures and pictorial friezes. The elaborated planetary children picture series can in a way be understood as narratives in comic style.


In astrology, which is committed to an archaic-mythical way of thinking, the categories of time and space are neither purely quantitative nor homogeneous concepts.[2] Each period of time and each direction of space is characterized primarily by qualitative properties.[3]

Already in ancient Egypt a “deification” of time periods took place. Each period of time – e.g. periods of days or ages – was assigned a special quality, which was usually personified as a deity. Everything that this deity had done left its mark forever on the time period it ruled.[4] Such an astrological-cosmological space-time concept can already be found in ancient oriental incantation texts, in which temporal quantities such as day, month or year appear alongside the powers of nature and deities; the latter are used as “computistic helpers” in ritual events.[5]

This qualitative conception of space also exists in medieval cosmology. The geocentric model of spheres does not understand the planetary spheres as a counterpart to the modern conception of the movement of celestial bodies in orbits. The spheres represent spatial sections that have certain inherent qualities.[6] Thus, the astrological-cosmological systems of the seven planets and twelve signs of the zodiac in late antiquity and the Middle Ages governed not only cosmic space but also the sections of time segmentations. These time rulers (“chronocrators”) are at the same time symbolic representatives of those periods of time to which they imprint their characteristics.[7] As so-called day and hour gods, the planets (gods) played a more important role than the signs of the zodiac.[8]

Planet Child Images


On the moon children pictures are mainly professions at the water depicted: Bathers, fishermen with fish traps and nets, mills with mill streams and ponds, to which often a donkey with a sack of grain and attendant is on the way. In addition a messenger, a gambler at the gambling table with dice and cups and a bird catcher with glue rods, drinking in a tavern. In the background a sailing ship on the water.


The Mercury children’s pictures mainly depict crafts and artistic professions: a sculptor carving a statue, a goldsmith making a cup, a painter creating an altar reredos, an organ builder tuning his instrument, a scribe with his manuscript, as well as a dining table at which people are eating in a small group.


Francesco del Cossa: Monthly pictures in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara. Detail: Planetary children of Venus.

The Venus children pictures show mainly lovers who embrace and kiss each other and are partly already in unambiguous positions on the floor. Often men and women are also depicted in the bath. Furthermore, various musicians are depicted in the pictures: Singers with sheet music, musicians with harps, trombones, shawms and lutes. Often individual couples perform a courtly dance to the music.


The Jupiter children’s pictures mainly show people doing sporting exercises. One man is pushing a stone as if he were throwing a shot, another is handling a long pole. Two people are wrestling with each other. On the floor lie some practice swords. Another group of motifs consists of praying men kneeling before a small altar. There is also a king with a crown on a throne, in front of which a harpist is playing his instrument.


The Martian children’s pictures are mainly depictions of violence. A group of partly mounted soldiers raids some thatched houses, plundering. Some are already on fire or are being lit with torches. The soldiers are driving the cattle away. Some fighting can be seen: one person is beating a helpless man lying on the ground to death with an axe or a club, another part of the picture shows two opponents stabbing each other with knives or swords. A woman is overpowered, in the background a bull on a cow suggests rape


In the sun child paintings, people are depicted doing physical exercises and competitions or wrestling matches, showing their vitality.


Saturn’s children’s pictures depict people who have to do with the earth, poverty and old age: farmers ploughing or slaughtering pigs, prisoners in the block, beggars, a poor man’s lunch, basket weavers in the water.

Content and structure

Planetary children of Saturn, woodcut, ca. 1470

The planetary and planetary child texts, along with the lunars and the zodiacal teachings, are among the most commonly surviving lay astrological texts. These teach the reader about the characteristics of the seven classical planets, their rulership over the various periods of time, and their influence on humans.[9]

The German and Latin planetary treatises are usually found in collected manuscripts, often together with similar texts, such as a sphere treatise or a teaching on the seasons. The content and length of such treatises, which were usually written in prose, vary according to the strand of tradition, but they have at least the two focal points “properties of the seven planets” and “planetary children” in common. An investigation of the textual history and the various redactions is still a task for research.[10]

The textual form is open and variable, and a number of special traditions exist. The tracts are usually divided into an introduction and seven uniformly structured chapters on the individual planets. The sections thus follow a fixed scheme, except for minor rearrangements, doublings, and varying weights. The planetary texts are often illustrated with pictures of planets and planetary children.

The structure of a typical planetary treatise is the planetary sequence. This usually starts with Saturn as the outermost planet and ends with the Moon as the closest planet to Earth. This order can also be reversed; very rarely the “most important” planet, the sun, forms the starting point. A typical tract begins with a general introduction that gives some astrological and astronomical characteristics of the planets and may vary considerably in length depending on the textual witness. Thereafter, each planet is introduced according to a fixed scheme in one of a total of seven stereotyped chapters. These may describe the “planetary nature” (e.g. etymology of the planetary name, astrological dignities, basic astronomical data, planetary verses), introduce the characteristics of the “planetary children” (physical and character traits, occupations and social status, planetary poems), or characterize the “planetary day” and “planetary hour” (rulership times, nativity charts, elections). Depending on the editors and the manuscript, further textual elements may have been added, such as the connections to the Roman gods, additions to the planetary characteristics, lists of the hours ruled by the planets and advice based on them, different nativity horoscopes, and various versified textual parts and illuminations.

Individual references

  1. Francis B. Brévart: ‘Planetary book’. In: Encyclopedia of Authors. 2. Edition. Vol. 7, sp. 713-715, here: Sp. 714.
  2. Kocku von Stuckrad: The struggle for astrology. Jüdische und christliche Beiträge zum antiken Zeitverständnis. De Gruyter, Berlin u. a. 2000 (= Religionsgeschichtliche Versuche und Vorarbeiten. Band 49), p. 71, ISBN 3-11-016641-0.
  3. Wilhelm Knappich, Wilhelm: History of Astrology. 3. Auflage. Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main 1998, p. 7, ISBN 3-465-02984-4; or Wolfgang Hübner: Space, Time and Social Role Play of the Four Cardinal Points in Ancient Cataract Horoscopy. Saur, Munich et al. 2003 (= Beiträge zur Altertumskunde. Vol. 194), p. 17, ISBN 3-598-77806-6.
  4. Wilhelm Knappich: History of Astrology. 3. Edition. Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main 1998, p. 13.
  5. Monika Schulz: Magie oder Die Wiederherstellung der Ordnung. Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 2000 (= Contributions to European Ethnology and Folklore: Series A, Texts and Investigations. Vol. 5), ISBN 3-631-36643-4, p. 143 f.
  6. Martin Mosimann: Die “Mainauer Naturlehre” im Kontext der Wissenschaftsgeschichte. Francke, Tübingen u. a. 1994 (= Basler Studien zur deutschen Sprache und Literatur. Band 64), ISBN 3-7720-1982-X, p. 43.
  7. Arno Borst: The Carolingian calendar reform. Hahn, Hannover 1998 (= Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Schriften. Band 46), ISBN 3-7752-5446-3, p. 555 f.
  8. Wolf-Dieter Müller-Jahncke: Astrologisch-magische Theorie und Praxis in der Heilkunde der frühen Neuzeit. Steiner, Stuttgart 1985 (= Sudhoffs Archiv. Beiheft 25), ISBN 3-515-03928-7, p. 23.
  9. Viktor Stegemann: Planets. In: Handwörterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens. Vol. 7, Sp. 36-294, here: Sp. 58.
  10. Ortrun Riha: Knowledge organization in medical collective manuscripts: classification criteria and combination principles for texts without work character. Habil.-Schr. Würzburg. Reichert, Wiesbaden 1992, ISBN 3-88226-537-X (= Wissensliteratur im Mittelalter. Vol. 9), p. 158 and note 3, and Francis B. Brevart, Gundolf Keil: ‘Planetentraktate’ (and ‘Planetenkinder’ texts)., sp. 719.

See also

  • Planetary Hour
  • Johann Fischart, Aller Practick Grandmother
  • The planets



  • Dieter Blume: Regents of the Heavens: Astrological Images in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-05-003249-9 (Studies from the Warburg House 3)
  • Anton Hauber: Planetary Childhood Images and Constellations. Zur Geschichte des menschlichen Glaubens und Irrens. Strasbourg 1916 (= Studies in German Art History. Vol. 194). Online.
  • Annett Klingner: The Power of the Stars. Planetenkinder: ein astrologisches Bildmotiv in Spätmittelalter und Renaissance. Berlin 2017, ISBN 978-3-00-057688-1 online
  • Viktor Stegemann: Aus einem mittelalterlichen deutschen astronomisch-astrologischen Lehrbüchlein: Eine Untersuchung über Entstehung, Herkunft und Nachwirkungen eines Kapitels über Planetenkinder. Reichenberg 1944 (= Prager deutsche Studien. Band 52).
  • Markus Mueller: Beherrschte Zeit: Lebensorientierung und Zukunftsgestaltung durch Kalenderprognostik zwischen Antike und Neuzeit. Kassel 2010 (= Schriften der Universitätsbibliothek Kassel. Band 8), here especially pp. 247-299.


  • Zdravko Blazekovic: Variations on the Theme of the Planets’ Children, or Medieval Musical Life According to the Housebook’s Astrological Imagery. In: Art and Music in the Early Modern Period: Essays in honour of Franca Trinchieri Camiz. Ed. by Katherine A. McIver. Aldershot, Burlington 2002, pp. 241-286, ISBN 0-7546-0689-9
  • Francis B. Brévart, Gundolf Keil: ‘Planetentraktate’ (und ‘Planetenkinder’-Texte). In: ²VL, vol. 7, sp. 715-723.
  • Kurt Grasshoff: Physical Exercises in Planetary Childhood Images of the 15th and 16th Centuries: The Children of the Planetary God Sol. In: Stadion 2 (1976), H. 2, S. 218-232.
  • Fritz Saxl: Probleme der Planetenkinderbilder. In: Kunstchronik und Kunstmarkt 54 (1918/19), pp. 1013-1021.


  • Iatromathematisches Kalenderbuch: Farbmikrofiche-Ed. der Hs. Tübingen, Universitätsbibliothek, Md 2. ed. Lengenfelder, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-89219-063-1 (Codices illuminati medii aevi 63).
  • Venus und Mars: Das mittelalterliche Hausbuch aus der Sammlung der Fürsten zu Waldburg Wolfegg. Ed. by Christoph Graf zu Waldburg Wolfegg. Prestel, Munich et al. 1997, ISBN 3-7913-1839-X.
  • Gundolf Keil (ed.): Vom Einfluss der Gestirne auf die Gesundheit und den Charakter des Menschen. The ‘Iatromathematische Hausbuch’, illustrated on the Nuremberg codex Schürstab. Volume 1: Facsimile, Volume 2: Commentary on the facsimile edition of the manuscript C 54 of the Zentralbibliothek Zurich. With the assistance of Friedrich Lenhardt and Christoph Weißer and a foreword by Huldrych M. Koelbing, Faksimile-Verlag, Lucerne/Vienna/Berlin et al. 1981-1983, ISBN 3-85672-013-8.

Web links

Commons: Medieval house book of Wolfegg Castle– Collection of pictures, videos and audio files