Adam Elsheimer paints the Moon like no one before

More than 400 years ago, the German artist Adam Elsheimer (1578–1610) painted the picture »Flight into Egypt« (1609), where he depicted the well-known biblical scene of the escape of Joseph and Maria with the Christ Child. The special feature of this painting is, that it shows the full moon and night sky with such a richness of detail on a scale not seen before. Scientists – like for example Dr. Christian Sicka of the ›Deutsche Museum‹ Munich – have examined this work and come to the conclusion that this is possibly the first correct astronomical true to life depiction of the night sky in paintings. One can easily recognise the lunar maria on the Moon’s surface and also the Milky Way, moreover a clear graduation of brightness with the individual stars.

What prompts a painter in the 17th century to realise a scientific perspective of nature in a picture with religious background? Back then, this was quite extraordinary, especially when you consider that Elsheimer was the son of a master tailor and had to fight all his life for survival as a painter. It is a sign of tremendous inner strength for daring to take this step as an artist and to create something new, which produced this far reaching effect.

His friend and painter colleague Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) spoke on the occasion of Adam Elsheimer’s early death, about the painful news and called upon all painters to shroud themselves in mourning.

To us, this beautiful painting remains and the look at the full moon which is as beautiful now as it was in those days …

Column: Worth reading, Worth seeing | 2 comments | Leave a comment
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  • This was a great article. I had no idea the 1st painting of the moon was way back in (1577 – 1640) and maybe even before that although this was the 1st one to be identified or made public.

    • It was certainly not the first painting of the Moon, but it is the first in which the astronomical details are carried out with this quality.

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