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Paper: Edwin Austin Abbey's The Passage of the Hours: Astronomy as History
Volume: 501, Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena VIII
Page: 43
Authors: Ricci, P. L.
Abstract: The Passage of the Hours (1909–1911) in the Pennsylvania State Capitol at Harrisburg is one of the most original and least known astronomical ceilings in the United States. Designed by the American artist Edwin Austin Abbey (1852–1911) to complement the Italian Renaissance style architecture of the House of Representatives, the mural combines two classical traditions of representing the night sky: a celestial map with the constellations of the zodiac and the personifications of the Hours. Set in a shallow dome twenty-four feet in diameter, Abbey's constellation figures float in a dazzling firmament where the Milky Way streams between the Sun and the Moon. The artist placed the Horae of Greek mythology around the dome's circumference in the position of the numbers on an astronomical clock. In the tradition of Italian Renaissance architecture, the celestial ceiling in the House of Representatives was part of an iconographic program affirming the cosmological origin of a polity. The astronomical theme relates to Abbey's murals in the House Chamber of the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 from David Rittenhouse's observatory in Philadelphia, which the astronomer constructed to study the transit of Venus in 1769. The artist included a portrait of Rittenhouse holding his telescope among the worthies in the adjacent mural of The Apotheosis of Pennsylvania. Contemporary as well as historical events encouraged Abbey's use of astronomical imagery: the depiction of a comet may record the much-anticipated return of Halley's Comet in 1910.
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