Saturday, 30 December 2006

Giotto and the comet

Giotto di Bondone (Colle di Vespignano, near Florence 1267 January 8 - Florence 1337), better known simply as Giotto, was a Florentine painter and architect who is generally considered the first in a line of great artists who contributed to and developed the Italian Renaissance. Giotto's master work is the Arena Chapel cycle of the Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padua depicting the life of the Virgin and the passion of Christ completed around 1305. The scheme has 100 major scenes with the heavily sculptural figures set in compressed but naturalistic settings often using forced perspective devices. Famous panels in the series include the Adoration of the Magi (picture), in which a comet like Star of Bethlehem streaks across the sky and the Flight from Egypt in which Giotto broke many traditions for the depiction of the scene.
This fresco, painted sometime between 1304 and 1306, features an accurately represents a comet above the Nativity stable. The fresco's realistic potrayal strongly suggests that it was based on the artist's first-hand observation of the comet Halley during its appearance in the skies over Europe in Oct. 1301. Almost seven centuries later the spaceprobe "Giotto" from the European Space Agency, was designed to study Halley's Comet. On March, 13, 1986, Giotto approached at a 596 kilometer distance from Halley's nucleus and obtained our first direct images of a comet nucleus. Giotto's images showed the nucleus to be an irregular object, something like a potato, with dimensions 15 km long and up to 10 km wide (picture).

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