Flamsteed Astronomy Society

Art and Astronomical Phenomena—Sarah Tombs

September 13, 2004

The Prime Mover—God imparting motion to the heavenly spheres from Giovanni di Paolo’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden c. 1445

Sarah Tombs

The Artist-Astronomer. Drawings of the Moon by Galileo 1609

Vincent Van Gogh  Starry Night

Inspired by his view of the Moon, Venus, and Aires from his window

The Friends staged the kick-off to the new season with a joint evening for the Canvas Club and Flamsteed Society.  Sarah Tombs who is Sculpture Fellow at Keele University, spoke about Art & Astronomical Phenomena.   Sarah’s presentation was lavishly illustrated with examples and took us through a wide survey of how astronomical objects and concepts have provided inspiration to artists across all of time.


In the early renaissance, astronomy, religion and philosophy were entirely intermingled.   All graphical illustration was art.  Sarah talked about many examples including di Paolo’s beautiful work about the heavenly spheres (L).







Of course many early ‘scientists’ were accomplished artists—Renaissance Men.  Outstanding examples were Leonardo and Galileo.  Sarah explored Galileo’s breathtaking drawings of the Moon (R).  Galileo’s artistic training and eye gave him a unique mental viewpoint from which to interpret the images he was the first to observe through the telescope lens.


Until the development of astro-photography in the late 19th century, much of the astronomy record depended on the artist skill and interpretation of observers.  Sometimes this interpretive role introduced a factor of pure excitement.  The ‘canals of Mars’ are a good case in point—there was surely evidence of intelligence.  The question was, on which end of the telescope was the intelligence really to be found?

Much of Sarah’s own work has been inspired by astronomical objects and events.  Included in her talk were slides of work from her Eclipse exhibition (2003/4) as well as sculpture inspired by nebulae and sun dials.  Sun dials and other instruments like astrolabes and armillary spheres have been objects of beauty as well as utility for thousands of years.


See more about Sarah’s work here




-Sarah Tombs

inspired by the Lunar Eclipse November 2003


Astronomy continues to inspire art down the generations.  Indeed today, nature itself is presenting us with images of pure artistic brilliance directly from the lenses of our cameras.   The images from Hubble and telescopes elsewhere now directly rival the most stunning work from the minds of artists.




Cats-eye Nebula