Smith’s Illustrated Astronomy
New York: Daniel Burgess & Co., 1855
Hand-colored wood engravings
Science and art come together in Asa Smith’s astronomical illustrations in order to engage even the most difficult of audiences: students. Smith’s Illustrated Astronomy became the most popular American pictorial astronomy book of the 19th century, demonstrating the important effect visual stimulus plays. Written by the principal of Public School No. 12 in New York City, Asa Smith, this work culminates in one of the most historically and artistically important manifestations of astral iconography published in America. Certainly, in
addition to their lavish aesthetic appeal, the astronomical illustrations of Asa Smith comprise one of the most visually effective illustrations of the Universe. Indeed, Smith stated his goal as “to present all the distinguishing principles in physical Astronomy with as few words as possible.” The charts of the planets and stars are printed predominantly in black, which makes the images as similar as possible to what one would actually see in the night skies, in addition to creating a pleasing asethtic. Originally copyrighted in 1848, numerous editions followed including the 1855 edition prints shown here. Of all the sciences, the history of astronomy is the most resonant with a sense of mystery and intellectual excitement. Asa Smith’s illustrations of the universe succeed in conveying that resonance.