Medieval and Early Modern Astronomy

Medieval and Early Modern Astronomy

The Moon’s environment, detail

Medieval and Early Modern Astronomy

Countdown: Biruni-Galileo-Apollo, 2019

From an early age, Pantea Karimi was intrigued by Persian poetry where the playful use of metaphor sparked her imagination. She felt especially connected to the descriptive verse about astronomical subjects like the Moon. For her it was magical and accessible, much the same as the night sky, which was mesmerizing from the desert near her home town of Shiraz in Iran. The image of an oversized Moon left a lasting impression and Karimi’s early paintings are filled with the Moon-themed imagery that spills across to her later compositions and art books.

Karimi’s current research project has given her the opportunity to revisit her childhood obsession with the Moon, this time exploring it from the point of view of science. Her foundation and inspiration for this exhibition stem from a 2018 extended visit at the British Library, London, where Karimi studied the manuscripts of Galileo, the 17th-century Italian physicist and astronomer, and Biruni, the 11th-century Persian astronomer.

In Countdown: Biruni-Galileo-Apollo, Karimi’s multimedia works explore an ancient and enduring fascination with the Moon in science, culture and language, while simultaneously celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Lunar Mission. In these works, Karimi has appropriated ancient diagrams and images from archival materials in the custodianship of the British Library, including the Kitab al-Tafhim by Biruni and De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris by Galileo. These manuscripts reveal intricate drawings and explanations about the phases of the Moon from these early scientists. She also presents the poems of medieval Persian poets – the most renowned of their day – where the Moon is represented metaphorically and symbolically in verse.

From the Earth to the Moon, 2019
Dome mirror, metal disks, cylindrical pipe, screws, Moon transparency and light

From the Earth to the Moon (French: De la terre à la lune) is an 1865 novel by Jules Verne. When I was 10 years old, I read this science fiction book, which enhanced my imagination and interest in the subject. The shape of the dome-mirror “spaceship” is inspired by an electromechanical toy I had as a child. This piece is paying homage to my collective childhood experience about the Moon.

Installation view at Mercury 20 Gallery, Oakland, CA

Moongraph 01, 02 and 03
Digital archival print on fabric, rods and hangers, 2019
72″ x 41″ and 72″ x 35″

These digital prints include archival images of the Apollo 11 Lunar Mission in 1969, images of the Moon that I captured above San Mateo hills in March 2019 using my mobile phone, the diagram of phases of the Moon by Biruni, the 11th century Persian astronomer, and the diagram of phases of the Moon by Galileo, the 17th-century Italian physicist and astronomer. The diagrams were featured in the scientist’s manuscripts, the Kitab al-Tafhim and the De Mundi Sphæra TractatusAutographus cum Figuris. I created an abstract version of these diagrams in black and white.

Pages from De Mundi Sphæra TractatusAutographus cum Figuris and Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm showcase the phases of the Moon. The abstract version of the diagrams by Pantea Karimi, 2019

The Infinite Moon, 2019         
Digital illustration and archival prints on aluminum. Circles’ dimension: 16” diameter, (2) 12” diameter, 8” diameter and 5” diameter

The Infinite Moon includes two images of the Moon’s surface (circles 2&4), a diagram by Galileo (circle 5) that describes the distances between the Moon, the Earth and the Sun, NASA’s Lunar environment prototype, and Far UV Camera Spectrograph-an instrument to record astronomical images- (circles 1&3). The Galileo’s diagram was featured in his 17th-century manuscript, De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris. There is a verse by Attar, a 12th c. Persian poet, next to the diagram, that says: I saw the Moon and the Sun harvesting my crop, which somehow describes the diagram in words. The metal prints are presented in an installation that references the Moon and its phases.

The Infinite Moon, details of NASA’s Lunar environment prototype, and Far UV Camera Spectrograph

The poems, included in the exhibition, where the Moon is represented metaphorically and symbolically in verse, were composed by medieval Persian poets, some of whom were also scientists, such as Omar Khayyam. Thus, in this exhibition, I aim to use the Moon as the catalyst to bring poetry, art, and science together.  

Attar’s poem, 12th-century, Iran

Installation view, Mercury 20 Gallery, Oakland, CA

Research

The British Library, research of the medieval and early modern manuscripts, 2018

Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm, Biruni, 11th century, housed at the British Library, images courtesy of the British Library

De Mundi Sphæra TractatusAutographus cum Figuris, Galileo, 17th century, housed at the British Library, photos by Pantea Karimi