Central Rotunda - Astronomy
- John Mosley's Caption
- Allegory and History
- Monumental Men
From Mosley's pamphlet, "The Hugo Ballin Murals at the Griffith Observatory" (Los Angeles: Published by the Griffith Observatory, Department of Parks and Recreation, City of Los Angeles, 1998):
“Opposite the main entrance is a group of astronomers from different ages. At left is Arzachel, who holds the important volume of astronomical tables he published in Moorish Spain in 1080. He represents the Arabic astronomers who preserved and developed the knowledge of the Classical world while Christian Europe languished during the Dark Ages.
The second figure is the early English astronomer, John Holywood, also known as Sacro Bosco, who died in about 1256. His book Sphaera Mundi dealt principally with the daily motions of the celestial sphere. It was one of the first astronomical books printed, and it remained popular for several centuries.
The third astronomer is the Polish monk Copernicus (1473-1543), who holds a sun-centered representation of the solar system. His proposal that the earth is not the center of the universe initiated an immense revolution in thought that continues to today.
The next figure is the Italian Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who laid the foundations of modern physics and who is often considered to be the first true scientist. He was the first person to use a telescope to study the sky, and with it he discovered the phases of Venus, the moons of Jupiter, and craters on the moon. Behind him is a medieval armillary sphere and a modern astronomer observing with a contemporary reflecting telescope.
The starry sky behind them contains such familiar objects as the Milky Way, the North Star, the Big Dipper and a spiral galaxy.”
Because this panel sits across from the entrance to Griffith Observatory, it is the first of the murals that visitors see and, in some ways, it is the centerpiece of Ballin's historical panels. As in the "Aeronautics" panel, each of the scientists featured is depicted holding items to represent his theoretical contributions, wearing costumes that signal his historical time period, and arranged in chronological order moving left to right. But on the right side of the panel, Ballin featured a reflecting telescope much like the Zeiss telescope housed at the observatory which was open for public viewing free of charge. He also added an anonymous scientist looking through the "modern" telescope, signaling to visitors that, by looking through the telescope at the observatory, they, too, could take their place among the great astronomers of years gone by. The panel suggests that Ballin took seriously Griffith's notion that “awareness of the heavens was linked to self-development” and that making science more accessible to the public could “revolutionize the world." In this panel, he encouraged those who walked through the doors of the observatory to participate in the "Advancement of Science" by indulging their curiosity and exploring the exhibits housed there.1
Of note in this panel is Ballin's inclusion of Azrachel to represent "the Arabic astronomers who preserved and developed the knowledge of the Classical world while Christian Europe languished during the Dark Ages."2 By including him alongside more well-known astronomers like Copernicus and Galileo, Ballin acknowledged the contributions of non-European scholars to the long history of "the Advancement of Science." Ballin strongly supported the educational mission of the observatory and Griffith's populist ideas about the importance of public understanding of the sciences. Ballin showed in this panel and others in the observatory that he believed properly educating the public about the history of science demanded that they be informed about the multicultural, interethnic influences on "the Advancement of Science," not simply the contributions of famous Anglo Europeans. Rather than offer a triumphalist version of the history of science that underscored the inherent intellectual superiority of western civilization, Ballin's murals remind visitors that "modern" science would not exist without the advancements made by scholars and scientists of other, non-western societies.
Caption excerpted from John Mosley's pamphlet, "The Hugo Ballin Murals at the Griffith Observatory" (Los Angeles: Published by the Griffith Observatory, Department of Parks and Recreation, City of Los Angeles, 1998).
1. Mike Eberts, Griffith Park: A Centennial History (Los Angeles: Historical Society of Southern California, 1996), p. 90.
2. Ballin quoted in John Mosley, "The Hugo Ballin Murals at the Griffith Observatory" (Los Angeles: Published by the Griffith Observatory, Department of Parks and Recreation, City of Los Angeles, 1998).
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