The firmament

Searching for an edge has led the subject of this drawing to break free from the surface and enter the heavens. Although some of the symbols appear medieval, this work comes from an 1888 book on Meteorology titled, L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire (“The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology”).

I first came across this image while searching on Open Clip Art. I was astounded by the fine details embedded in this work. There are three faces: the explorer, the sun and moon, which all look in different directions. The outlines of a village blend into the surrounding hills – I assume the explorer left from this town. The wheel within a wheel undoubtedly references Ezekiel’s vision of God’s chariot. The enormous tree that shadows the village and all its surroundings indicates another potential religious reference to the Kabbalah’s tree of life.

The biggest mystery around this work is who made it. There is no marking from the illustrator on the art or in any reputable source. I cannot imagine that somebody would create a work of such detail and depth and forget the attribution – so its absence may be intentional. Is the explorer a self-portrait of the drawing’s creator? What is this artist trying to say about man’s search for truth in the universe? Can this explorer ever return to the village behind him, or is his world now so spectacularly large that he must reach further into the heavens?

There was a window, perhaps from the 1950s to the end of the last century, when the dream of leaving earth’s orbit saturated children’s imaginations. With the last scheduled space shuttle voyage behind us, will future generations look to the stars to find their futures? The Flammarion engraving tells me that the quest for knowledge beyond our planet runs deep within the human spirit. The question is not if we will resume human space flights, but where we will explore next.