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Van Gogh and Starry Night

            What is the definition of the word icon? One example of such an icon is the painting is "Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gogh. Few people actually know the name of this famous painting, but when they see the picture they recognize having seen it many times throughout their lives in textbooks, museums, prints in people's homes, businesses, etc. "Starry Night" is widely known simply as "a painting that some guy named Van Gogh did". The painting is a depiction of a town at night. Between the sky and the town in the back of the painting there is a mountain range. In the sky there are swirls of blues and white and yellows, along with eleven brightly shining stars and a glorious half-moon. .
             There is also a dark structure reaching up towards the sky on the left hand side of the painting. Just looking at it one is reminded of the childhood story "Jack and the Beanstalk". Tendril looking things sprout from the ground and shoot up towards the sky while intertwining with one another. Because of the darkness this structure has, along with it shapelessness, it is difficult to venture a guess as to what it represents. One source describes it as "a tree, like a black flame" (Whitney), which would explain the tendrils and the towering height of the structure. .
             Charles A. Whitney examined the swirls depicted in the sky more closely and "was struck by the remarkable coincidence between the swirling pattern at the center of the painting and a drawing that had been made several decades earlier by the astronomer Lord Rosse with a gigantic telescope. It was the first rendering of a spiral galaxy, now known to be a collection of stars similar to our own Milky Way" (Whitney). Whitney goes on to explain how it is impossible, now, to tell if Van Gogh consciously meant to copy the work of Lord Rosse. He also describes how this pattern type occurs in more of Van Gogh's night paintings that were done in that time frame.

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