In 1571 a dramatic solar eclipse occurred: this event probably served as the subject of this painting by Antoine Caron. He painted it at the court of Catherine de Medici, queen of France, who, like many rulers of the time, was extremely superstitious and fascinated by astronomical phenomena, often seeing eclipses and natural disasters as foreboding omens.
In the painting, astronomers gather in a town square beneath the shadowed sun. A bearded Greek philosopher in the foreground looks at the sky and points to an armillary sphere on the ground. Next to him, the central figure, Dionysius the Areopagite, holds a book, points to the sky, and looks at the celestial globe carried by the figure running up the steps at the right. Dionysius preaches the Christian message of salvation to pagan Greek philosophers. A putto, seated on the steps between a square and straight edge, writes on a tablet, recording the event.
In the background on the right, a statue representing Urania, the muse of Astronomy, stands on a twisted column. Near the statue, figures run and point towards the heavens while seeking cover. Above, an ominous red sun glows and lightning streaks the stormy, cloud-filled sky.
(Text courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program, CC BY 4.0).