Impressive Astronomical Drawings Brought to Life by an Amateur
Curiosity and talent combined in the elaboration of these impressive illustrations of celestial phenomena.
Many of us have been fascinated by photographs published by NASA, or by a video captured from the International Space Station or an image sent by a spacecraft that’s millions of miles from Earth. But some of us wonder still how that inspiration could have been transmitted across the cosmos at a time when there was no such technology.
The answer comes in a lot of forms, no doubt, but some of the most admirable were created by Étienne Léopold Trouvelot, a Frenchmen who fled Napoleon’s 1852 coup. With his family safely in the United States, Trouvelot settled in the city of Medford, Massachusetts.
At the time at about 25 years old, Trouvelot began to make his way in life through sheer tzalent and curiosity. That talent was in drawing, and his curiosity decanted into two areas: entomology and astronomy; insects and heavenly bodies –– Two points may at that first glance seem to be at extreme odds, but that nonetheless converge in certain features of the melancholy temperament that Susan Sontag memorably noted in the work of Walter Benjamin; in his miniaturization and collecting.
Interestingly, Trouvelot’s inclinations were not simultaneous. Rather, one happened after the other and in response to disappointment. Upon arriving on the new continent, Trouvelot carried the eggs of a Gypsy moth and whose scientific name is Lymantria dispar. There are unseen dangers to raising any species outside their natural habitat and in poorly controlled conditions. Some of the moths escaped to the nearby woods, causing a plague that continues even to this day. Justifiably, the incident caused Trouvelot to turn his attention from insects and devote himself to observing changes in the stars.
The result was, in part, the illustrations we’re sharing here and which arose through both the amateur observations made by Trouvelot himself, and others led by Joseph Winlock, director of the Observatory of Harvard University. Upon seeing Trouvelot’s work, Winlock immediately invited him to collaborate at the institution, and later at the US Naval Observatory. During a period between 1872 and 1875, Trouvelot completed some 7,000 astronomical illustrations and nearly 50 academic articles.
Trouvelot performed his work under the premise of bringing knowledge to the general public, all the while transmitting the inherent beauty of the sky and astronomical phenomena. These testified ultimately, that the two pursuits were more than enough to make real an admirable and rigorous fidelity to both the facts and the spirit of artistry.
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