Influence of Astronomy on Art

Since we were hunter-gatherers, astronomy was part of our life. Those who were well versed in it were able to keep a record of time, seasons, location, and direction. There is one more thing as old as astronomy – Art.

Art is something that makes us different from other species. Throughout history, there has been an influence of art on astronomy. Constellations are the perfect example of that. But there is also the influence of astronomy on art.

Here are 5 instances where astronomy influenced art –

Stańczyk

Stańczyk by Jan Matejko

The painting was completed in 1862. The letter (on the table) bears the year 1533 (A.d. MDXXXIII). Through the open window, a Cathedral is visible. Next to it, a comet is seen. The three stars of Orion’s Belt are seen above and to the left of the cathedral. The comet here depicted isn’t Halley’s Comet. Although it appeared in AD 1531. Comet is just used for the symbolic purpose in the painting.

The Starry Night

The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

In 1845 William Parsons made a sketch of the Whirlpool Galaxy from a 72-inch reflector. Almost 40 years later, that particular sketch inspired the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh to create his masterpiece – The Starry Night. Van Gogh was well aware of the astronomical discoveries made in his time. He knew space as a dynamic place – which appears beautifully in this image.

Sketch of Whirlpool Galaxy by William Parsons

The Adoration of the Magi

The Adoration of the Magi by Giotto di Bondone

Painted by Giotto di Bondone, the painting includes a comet in the sky. And it is believed that Halley’s Comet is depicted in this painting, which appeared in 1301.

Comet Donati

Comet Donati over Paris (from a 19th encyclopaedia)

Donati was the most beautiful comet observed. And was one of the brightest comets of the 19th century.

Its influence on art and design was widespread. Its appearance can be found in magazines, commercial illustrations, household objects, and other items until the early 20th century.

In the above painting, Ursa Major and Corona Borealis (upper left) can be seen. One thing to notice is that Comet Neowise was almost in the same position in 2020.

Crab Nebula

Anasazi pictograph depicting Crab Nebula

The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant of a star that exploded in 1054 AD. Not many records are available of this event from 1054 AD. Here is a separate article on the Crab Nebula.

In the above painting, we can see a crescent moon beside a bright star. This star is the Crab Nebula. The hand-print is possibly the signature of the artist.

These were just a few examples of the influence of astronomy on art. There are many more throughout history. I’ll be updating this list in the future.

~AK

Published by Anand Krishna

Amateur astronomer and astrophotographer. Interested in astrophoto processing, astrostatistics, comet hunting, visual and radio astronomy.

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