Five Paintings that Celebrate the Sky

Different perspectives on the power of the sky

Christopher P Jones
5 min readJan 17, 2023

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Starry Night Over the Rhône (1888) by Vincent van Gogh. Oil on canvas. 28.5 × 36.2 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France. Image source Wikimedia Commons

The world above our heads is full of fleeting episodes. A cloud shifts, the light changes, and the impression brings new associations.

A cloud spotter takes care to acknowledge the weight or lightness of congregated mist. The lapidary nature of a cloud — the extent to which it is bulbously summoned, chiselled or polished — or else drawn out and teased into hazy stretches, captures their attention.

Nighttime brings a different cast of players: winking stars and the theatre of the moon. The contrast is a reminder of how the conditions of the sky tend to reign over our moods, flavouring our days with sunshine and shadows and our nights with glitter or brume.

It is little wonder then that the sky has provided artists with an almost endless vocabulary of metaphors to draw upon.

The Monk by the Sea

The Monk by the Sea (between 1808 and 1810) by Caspar David Friedrich. Oil on canvas. 110 × 171.5 cm. Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany. Image source Wikimedia Commons

One of the great skies in art history was captured by the German romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich. The Monk by the Sea shows a lone figure standing before a terrific expanse of obscurity.

The lower reaches of the sky create an unending penumbra over the sea, locating a wistful glorification of nature in all its disconcerting grandeur. A painting like this attempts a figurative expression of the mystery and loneliness of existence.

It was completed at roughly the same time that the German writer Goethe wrote these lines: “There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on the point of view.”

Camera degli Sposi

Andrea Mantegna “Camera degli Sposi” fresco 1465–1474 (ceiling detail) Palazzo Ducale, Mantua, Italy. Image source Wikimedia Commons

The Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna wanted to remember a different aspect of the sky’s infinite variety in this fresco, located at the Camera degli Sposi (“bridal chamber”) of the Ducal Palace in Mantua, Italy.

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