Oct 26, 2010
Oct 13, 2010
Oct 4, 2010
The Flammarion woodcut is an anonymous wood engraving (once believed to be a woodcut), so named because its first documented appearance is in Camille Flammarion's 1888 book L'atmosphère: météorologie populaire ("The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology").
In 1957, astronomer Ernst Zinner claimed that the image dated to the German Renaissance, but he was unable to find any version published earlier than 1906. Further investigation, however, revealed that the work was a composite of images characteristic of different historical periods, and that it had been made with a burin, used for wood engraving only since the late 18th century. The image was traced to Flammarion's book by Arthur Beer, an astrophysicist and historian of German science atCambridge and, independently, by Bruno Weber, the curator of rare books at the Zürich central library.
According to Weber and to astronomer Joseph Ashbrook, the depiction of a spherical heavenly vault separating the earth from an outer realm is similar to the first illustration in Sebastian Münster'sCosmographia of 1544, a book which Flammarion, an ardent bibliophile and book collector, might have owned. The idea of a pilgrim searching for the place where the Earth and sky meet might have been inspired by a legend associated with Saint Macarius of Rome, a legend which Flammarion recounts in detail in his book Les mondes imaginaires et les mondes réels ("The Imaginary Worlds and the Real Worlds", 1865).
Flammarion had been apprenticed at the age of twelve to an engraver in Paris and it is believed that many of the illustrations for his books were engraved from his own drawings, probably under his supervision. Therefore it is plausible that Flammarion himself created the image, though this has not been conclusively ascertained.
Like most other illustrations in Flammarion's books, the engraving carries no attribution. In the previous page, Flammarion comments on the wrongness of the ancient belief that the sky is a physical barrier, like a vault or a curtain, separating us from another realm. He also mentions, without giving any further details, that a medieval missionary claimed to have discovered a place where the sky and the earth were not joined together, which allowed him to poke his head behind the veil of the sky to look at the heavenly regions behind it.
The decorative border surrounding the engraving is distinctly non-medieval, and it was only by cropping it that the confusion about the historical origins of the image became possible. Flammarion might have simply intended the image as a fanciful illustration of the false view of the sky as a barrier. Some commentators have claimed that Flammarion produced the image to propagandize the myth that medieval Europeans widely believed the Earth to be flat. In his book, however, Flammarion never discusses the issue of the shape of the EarthOriginal versionCaption says “A medieval missionary tells that he hasfound the point where heaven and Earth meet…”Peace!