Heavenly Body in the Night Sky Albrecht Durer Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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This artwork, Heavenly Body in the Night Sky, is a lesser known piece by Albrecht Durer which lies on the reverse side of the highly regarded Saint Jerome in the Wilderness. The double-sided painting can be found in the collection of the National Gallery in London, UK.

The first thing to notice from the images that we have of this painting is that detail is very hard to discern - was this perhaps a study piece or experimental artwork that was later replaced by the alternative piece on the other side? It feels almost like something from the Romanticist period, or perhaps even one of Francisco de Goya's Black Paintings, which included the likes of Saturn Devouring His Son and The Dog. We see a flurry of bright colour within the centre of the painting, and then touches of grey which create form elsewhere, such as a figure at the bottom of the painting who appears to be overcome by the light that appears in front of them. One is immediately drawn in, unsure what we are looking at but aware that there are some powerful emotions at play here. Another suggestion has been that the touches of lighter paint at the bottom are actually clouds and this is entirely a sky scene, with no figures actually included, though it is hard to tell without viewing the piece in person.

Discussions have run for centuries about the precise content delivered here. Some claim it to be a genuine astronomical event as perhaps seen by the artist himself, such as a star, comet or meteor. We do know that around this period there were several such events which might have inspired this painting. However, we also have found many examples of similar work from other artists where the content came entirely from their imagination and the same maybe the case here. There were also some artworks uncovered of the same events in Germany at around the time of this artwork, including a woodcut by Sebastian Brant which captured the exciting moment. At this time in European history such events would have been much harder to understand, and the role of religion within society may have led some to conclude the influence of God.

Head to the National Gallery in order to see this double-sided artwork, but be aware that if the painting is displayed in the traditional manner, then this side of it will likely be facing the wall and therefore not visible. The same issue can occur with multi-panel artworks which sometimes have paintings on both sides of panels, meaning they can be opened or closed. Visitors to the venue will have plenty more exciting art to enjoy, as the gallery hosts one of the most impressive collections of traditional European art anywhere in the world. There is good coverage of British art, as well as the big names from Italian and North European art, with just some of the highlights to be found here including the likes of The Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca, Venus at her Mirror (The Rokeby Venus) by Diego Velazquez and Venus and Mars by Sandro Botticelli. There are also regular exhibitions which aim to draw in some of the best work from around the world for short term loans of several months before returning them to their permanent locations.