October 05, 2009

Eise Eisinga, Planetarium

 picture by Bouwe Brouwer
licensed under Wikimedia Commons

This small house in the Frisian community of Franeker (Netherlands) houses a planetarium, an installation constructed by Eise Eisinga (1744-1828), who lived in that house and wanted to inform his fellow citizens about the movements of the planets.

Life and works

Eisinga began this project in 1774, when there was a lot of unrest among the population because of a pastor, who, with some emphasis, proclaimed that a special conjunction of planets and the sun in that year would result in a collision causing the destruction of the world.

Eise Eisinga, who knew better, thought that the best way to inform people about the reality of astronomics, would be to create a life model of our sun system. It took him seven years to complete this creation.

The installation is on scale 1: This means: one million kilometers in reality have been reduced to one millimeter in the model.

picture courtesy of Roel Wynants (Flickr, 2009),

The part of the installation showing the course of the planets around the sun is situated in the ceiling of the living room of the not rather big family house. It is a beautifully coloured and decorated construction.

The wheelwork is located above the ceiling on the attic. The pendulum of the clockwork that functioned as the central driving facility, is in the bedstead where the Eisinga couple spent the night.

In terms of making clockworks Eisinga was an autodidact, and painting and calligraphy were his métier neither.

Eisinga's life

Born in 1744 in the small community of Dronrijp in Friesland, Eise Eisinga  was a clever boy, who in his free time liked to study astronomy and mathematics, eager to learn about new insights.

But further schooling wasn't granted to him. He had to work, combing wool in his father´s small wool manufactory. In 1768 he settled in the city of Franeker, where he had his own wool combing business.

Creating the planetarium, 1774/1781, characterizes Eisinga as the child of the Enlightenment he was.

This also has influenced his political and social opinions. The revolutionary period of the 1780s also manifested itself in the Netherlands, and in 1787 due to some incidents, Eisinga had to flee Franeker, and he could only return in 1795. 

He became a professor at the University of Franeker (until in 1811 the institution was closed).

Eise Eisinga died in 1824.

Currently the site is a museum

In 1825 the Planetarium was bought by the king of the Netherlands for the state and in 1854 it was given as a present to the city of Franeker. It currently is exploited as a museum (some 35.000 visitors yearly, from all over the world)

The mechanism still works perfectly, showing the movements of the planets as they actually are.


* Website of the museum
* H. Terpstra, The planetarium of Eise Eisinga in Franeker: a remarkable 18th century work of art and its creator, Franeker, ca 1992

* A video on YouTube (5'10". October 2008), Dutch spoken, scenes of the mechanism.

Eise Eisinga
Eise Eisingastraat 3
Franeker, Netherlands
museum open tue-sat 10-17, sun 13-17
(apr/oct also mon 13-17)
streetview (with some pictures of the museum)

1 comment:

  1. An example of an originally outsider environment which became a classic. As a lover of the Netherlands and verything related, i had found several references to Franeker as one of the most important centers of skating in Friesland, but also, the Planetarium is also always mentioned and recommended as a most to be visited. However dear Henk, I have never heard about the history behind. The wish of a man to fight against the ignorance and superstition. The travel guides always mention Eise Eisinga to be a tycoon, but never mention his effort, and how knowledge helped him in changing his path.