Aurora Borealis in Art & the Barnard- Stokes Business

Until recently, the aurora had been seen by few. Now you can check daily on its activity at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, and view dozens of professional and amateur photos as you do so. Start here.

Or enjoy some artists’ renderings, imaginative and as seen on expeditions.

The Uprising of the North
 [Grand caricaturama]
Creator(s): Nast, Thomas, 1840-1902, artist, 1867
Medium: 1 painting : tempera(?) ; 7 ft. 10.5 in. x 11 ft. 7 in.
Summary: Cartoon shows “a night scene. Columbia stands on a balcony draped with the United States flag, with the American Eagle beside her, wings outspread. She brandishes her sword, and below her, mounted knights salute her with drawn swords. In the distance is a wide landscape of mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes–a whole continent–with beacon fires everywhere. In the sky is a vision of the Capitol, with rays of light radiating from it like the aurora borealis. … The painting reveals Nast’s complete belief in the righteousness of the Northern [American Civil War] cause. It also reveals the basic romanticism that governed his politics and art. …”
 No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright Office.

This odd painting is an allegory of the 19th century American Civil War but of note is that in Lyra’s world the aurora borealis is associated with battling armies of angels. Moreover, there is a city in the sky.

The Barnard-Stokes Business: (GC/NL Chapter 2): Accoording to the Jordan College Master, while the Holy Church claims there are only two words, one physical and the other “the spiritual world of heaven and hell.” Barnard and Stokes, a pair of “renegade theologians, theorized that there are numerous physical worlds — “material and sinful…close by, but invisible and unreachable.”

While I am not claiming any such status for the city in Thomas Nast’s painting, it seems too cool in context to overlook. Less fantastic first-hand geographical explorations follow.

 Aurora borealis, as observed March 1, 1872, at 9h.
25m. P.M. C. 1881
Medium: 1 print : chromolithograph ; sheet 92 x 122 cm. or less.
No known restrictions on publication.
flick’r commons (British Library)

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