Thursday, April 2, 2009

The International Year of Astrology

Andreas Cellarius
From Harmonia Macrocosmica
Amsterdam: 1708

This year commemorates the 400th anniversary of Galileo's use of a telescope to study the skies and Kepler's publication of Astronomia Nova. With the quadricentennial of modern astronomy upon us, Arader Galleries celebrates the numerous astronomical and scientific milestones by highlighting a particular celestial cartographer or work of art each month. Indeed, the history of astronomy can be traced through its imagery—particularly through the development of celestial maps. This month, we highlight the extraordinary work of Andreas Cellarius.

Science and art come together in celestial maps to an effort to shape a rational image of the heavens. Andreas Cellarius’s Atlas Coelestis seu Harmonia Macrocosmica, published in Amsterdam in 1708, in one of the most historically and artistically important manifestations of such an effort. Certainly, in addition to their lavish aesthetic appeal, the celestial charts of Andreas Cellarius comprise the most sweeping, ambitious project in the history of celestial cartography, one which also illustrates the historical tensions of the time. In his distinctive visual language, Cellarius portrayed the often conflicting theories that prevailed. In addition to the relatively obscure notions of Tycho Brahe and Schiller, Cellarius’s charts track the theories of Ptolemy, dating from the 2nd century AD, and Copernicus’s 16th-century challenge to the venerable ancient astronomer.

Cellarius’ project was not devoid of political motivation. Up to his time of artistic activity, the Netherlands had been the unquestioned center of scientific discovery, and Dutch mapmakers had reigned supreme above all others. In the early 18th century, Louis XV of France sought to bring his country to the forefront of science, and by association, to imply political dominance. His efforts led to a great competition between France and the Netherlands, and Cellarius’ sweeping project was an attempt to thwart French attempts completely. In some cases, Cellarius incorporated French elements into his maps, like acanthus leaves which can be seen often on French furniture of the period. By attempting to use French visual elements more skillfully than they themselves could, Cellarius implied the Netherlands’ artistic superiority. Consequently, Cellarius’ work remains a landmark of the Golden Age of Exploration, combining great artistic beauty with scientific documentation. The vibrant hues, spanning the color spectrum, give amazing animation to the images, and the skies appear to come alive with bright figures.

Of all the sciences, the history of astronomy is the most resonant with a sense of mystery and intellectual excitement. We believe that maps and other images of the heavens succeed in some degree in conveying that resonance. We invite you to stop by the gallery at 432 Jackson Street to see our magnificent collection of Celarius prints or call 415.788.5115 to request a catalog.

Please check back next month as Arader Galleries will be presenting the extraordinary masterpiece Uranometria by Johann Bayer.

No comments: