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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » February 4, 2010
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The Faces of an Astronomer
February 4, 2010   
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Nicolaus Copernicus in Prints and Paintings is the latest in a series of exhibitions dedicated to the famous Polish astronomer at the District Museum in the north-central city of Toruń.

Although there are many portraits of Copernicus (1473-1543), nobody knows what he really looked like, because there is no evidence any of his portraits was painted while he was still alive.

The three oldest printed images of Copernicus are the most intriguing items on display. The first one was made by Swiss graphic artist and painter Tobias Stimmer and was published in 1587 in Nicolaus Reusner's book Icones sive imagines virorum literis illustrium (Images or Paintings of Famous Learned Men). A few years earlier, Stimmer painted a picture that was placed in the frame of the Strasbourg cathedral clock. The painting has not survived until contemporary times. In line with the tradition at the time, both portraits were based on a picture (possibly a self-portrait) painted when Copernicus was still alive.

The woodcut by Stimmer served as the base for a copper engraving by Theodorus de Bry and published in 1597 in a book by Jean-Jacques Boissard, Icones virorum illustrium (Images of Famous Men).

The third image was produced by I.A. Scharffen at the end of the 17th century. In the picture, Copernicus is holding an open book in his right hand and in his left, which is slightly raised, a symbol of heliocentrism.

The most atypical portrait of Copernicus shown in Toruń is a lithograph by Polish artist Stanisław Szukalski (1893-1987). The picture shows Copernicus wearing a tight sweatshirt with a deep slit to highlight his athletic build. His hair forms two curls resembling horns. In his hands, Copernicus is holding a compass-like instrument used to measure the distance from the heart (Earth) to the brain (Sun).

Mirela Hein

Toruń, House of Nicolaus Copernicus, 15/17 Kopernika St., open through Feb. 28, tickets zl.10 (normal) and 7 (reduced price)
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