15 September, 2007
Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) was the last great astronomer to work without a telescope. His observations of the motions of the sky were, at the time, the most accurate ever recorded. Indeed his assistant, Kepler, used his measurements to support the heliocentric view of the solar system. Tycho himself did not subscribe to this theory, and had his own Tychonic system placing the earth at the centre of the universe, orbited by the sun and moon, with other planets orbiting the moon.
acrylic on canvas 600mm x 600mm
Tycho lost part of his nose in a drunken duel with Manderup Parsbjerg in 1566, allegedly over who was the superior mathematician, and constructed his own prosthetic nose of copper. A wealthy nobleman himself, Tycho was known for his elaborate banquets, where he would entertain his guests with his clairvoyant dwarf jester, Jepp.
He also kept a tame moose in his care, which would be sent on visits to neighboring kingdoms as a sort of emissary. However, during one such visit, the moose became so inebriated on beer, that the poor animal fell down some stairs and died. Quite why the moose was indoors is unknown.
Tycho died in 1601, apparently due to complications with his bladder, after drinking to excess without urinating. He was ill for eleven days, and toward the end of his illness he is said to have told Kepler “Ne frustra vixisse videar!”, “Let me not seem to have lived in vain” – which is the quote on the painting.
For me, the fascination with Tycho comes from the reputation he left behind – while he spent many years of his life painstakingly recording astronomical observations, he is know to us mainly as a series of anecdotes relating to his personal habits. He was clearly concerned about his scientific legacy, which due to advances in technology, became redundant almost immediately after his death.
Below is a timelapse recording of the painting, featuring a new piece of music by shardcore and benetrator.
One of the more interesting challenges with painting someone who lived four hundred years ago, is deciding quite what they look like. While researching this piece I came across a number of representations of Tycho, all different, some clearly derivative of others. Interestingly all but one neglected to make a feature of his nose, as I have done here, perhaps in deference to his vanity…
Will the real Tycho Brahe please stand up?
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