"Conversations with God—Copernicus by Jan Matejko" by Christopher Riopelle

Conversations with God—Copernicus by Jan Matejko Christopher Riopelle, Andrzej Szczerski, Owen Gingerich

Publication date:
23 Mar 2021
National Gallery London
96 pages: 241 x 260mm
40 color + b-w illus.

Largely unknown outside his homeland, Jan Matejko (1838–1893) is widely regarded as the national painter of Poland, where he is revered for his huge, teeming, minutely detailed depictions of key moments in the nation’s history.  This volume, by Polish, British, and American experts, introduces the artist to a wider public with this monumental painting. It celebrates the achievements of Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543), the first astronomer since the Ancient Greeks to realize that the sun rather than the earth stands at the center of our planetary system and that we rotate around it. Rather than depicting Copernicus at the moment of his discovery—his chart of the heavens is already there by his side—Matejko chose to paint him on a rooftop in his hometown of Frombork, discussing the matter with God. Unlike Galileo three-quarters of a century later, Copernicus was never excommunicated for challenging the authority of the church; indeed, enlightened clerics of the day celebrated his breakthrough.

Christopher Riopelle is the Neil Westreich Curator of Post-1800 Paintings at the National Gallery, London. Andrzej Szczerski is director of the National Museum in Kraków. Owen Gingerich is professor emeritus of astronomy and the history of science at Harvard University.