Leonardo: Picturing the Cosmos

By Stephen Petersen

kessler_picturingWith their saturated colors and hyper-realistic detail, along with their promise of revealing the unseen universe, the images from the Hubble Space Telescope, launched in 1990, have a unique place in our visual culture. They are at once unprecedented—looking out into distant space and back into cosmic time—and commonplace—featured in calendars, screen savers, and posters. Rarely is their existence as visual objects probed: how did they come to be, why do they look the way they do? In this illuminating study art historian Elizabeth Kessler investigates them from a variety of perspectives, focusing not on the cosmic objects in the images, but rather on the images themselves as representations—and as such part of a history that includes astronomical illustrations, landscape paintings, and fine-art photographs.

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