September 9, 2013 9:55 am
Today, studying comets and meteors involves billions of dollars worth of equipment and teams from all over the world. But in the 16th century, they used watercolors. Check out, for instance, this book—called the Kometenbuch and made in the late 16th century—which is full of these astronomical illustrations.
‘Kometenbuch’ was produced in Flanders or NE France in 1587. Two editions are known to exist; the other copy is owned by the Warburg Institute in London, and contains near-identical sketches, but has an extra chapter of writing. The names of the author and illustrator are unknown. The text would appear to reflect the rather outlandish, or at least exaggerated, qualities we see in the painted miniatures. In other words, the text purports to compile a history of comet science from ancient times up to the late Medieval period, but it does so in such a way that the emphasis is on ‘popularising’ the content. Early Modern pop-science, if you will. So what began as factual depictions of celestial phenomena, morphed into spectacular genre paintings.
Some of the images even reveal the artist’s sense of humor. (Your eye’s drawn to the sky, but look down and to the right.)
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