Central Rotunda - Navigation
- John Mosely's Caption
- Allegory and History
From his 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):
“Above the entrance to the West Gallery, the two symbolic figured are old man Wind, who holds a mariner’s sun clock and a compass, and Becalm, who holds a sextant.
When this mural was painted, mariners and pilots used sextants to find their longitude and latitude by measuring the altitudes of the sun by day and planets and stars by night. A sextant is a graduated arc (one-sixth; Latin, sextus) of a circle with a small telescope and mirrors, and it is used to measure the angle between the horizon and a bright celestial object. Such optical devices do not work in cloudy weather.
Spanning the panel is the moon at various positions in its orbit around the earth with the sun’s rays coming from the right.
The large circular device at top center is an astrolabe, an early general-purpose portable astronomical instrument used to measure positions of celestial objects and to tell time. A simple astrolabe was a disk suspended from a string with a calibrated outer dial and a moveable pointer attached at the center. Astrolabes were used from Classical Greek times until they were replaced by sextants in the early eighteenth century. Sextants were made obsolete by radio and satellite following World War II.
In the background a ship sails out of a tropical storm (left) into the polar regions (right). A comet and edgewise spiral galaxy float in the top corners.”
Instead of depicting famous navigators like Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo, in his panel on navigation, Ballin used allegorical figures that harken back to those in his earliest works as representations. This female figure is one of only a very few included in Ballin's murals at the Griffith Observatory, but looks very similar to the "Spirits" he employed to represent the values of the state in his murals at the Executive Chamber in the Wisconsin State Capitol. Strong and resolute, she similarly embodies the values she represents and those that Ballin believed to be the most valuable affects that advances in the science of navigation had on travel and exploration. Because of advances in science and technology, sailors could navigate their ships through tropical storms and polar ice caps and into calm waters, allowing them to "becalm" while they travelled into foreign and unknown lands.
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).
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