The complete silhouette illustration by the German Symbolist master Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach, assembled as one ultra-wide image. “Per Aspera Ad Astra” (“Through Hardship to the Stars”) is a complex, striking and joyful work defying easy explanation. Diefenbach himself was an untethered, original thinker–Theosophist, Symbolist, Naturist, Himself-ist–perhaps best summed up in the paradox that virtue pushed past reason becomes vice. The silhouette procession of children, animals and much more was originally a 68 meter long frieze, designed in 1875 and executed by Diefenbach’s protegé Hugo Höppener (“Fidus”) while Diefenbach was in a sanitarium. It was adapted into a book of 34 illustrations by 1893, scans of which can be found on the Commons along with more of Diefenbach’s work.
The images for download here are from these scans, matched and straightened nondestructively with hand cleanup, into a 2.9GB greyscale 172,058 x 2,473 px Large Document Format file.
The scrolling YouTube video (above) is probably the easiest viewing method right now. Be sure to set the quality to full 1080p60 and go fullscreen.
The TIFF is 110MB, full sized (172058 x 2473 px) and may be compatible with more software. I’d recommend downloading the zip file, as trying to render the TIFF might crash your browser.
The PNG is full sized and only 67MB, but may be harder to decompress. Same browser warnings.
The JPEG is 6MB, scaled down to 64,000 x 920 px (the max for the file format).
Information in English is hard to find. “Per Aspera Ad Astra” sometimes seems to be confused with “Kindermusik” (“Children’s Music”) a different series sharing themes and at least one figure. Diefenbach spent many of his later years on Capri, where there is a museum dedicated to his surviving works. (Too few, sadly.) His reputation improved by the passing century, the original 68 meter frieze of “Per Aspera Ad Astra” is now on display in the town of his birth at the City Museum Hadamar.
Please note that this assembled version should not be considered a “transformative work” for purposes of copyright, so the image files here are in the public domain. I don’t currently have the storage and bandwidth on SpaceToast.net to host the original file, but if you’d like to work with it please contact me through the About page and we’ll figure out a way to get it to you.
From the archives of the Boston Public Library’s Louis Prang & Company Chromolithographs collection, all scanned in lovingly, Rodney’s-friendly high resolution. L. Prang & Co.’s cards and prints were popular in the late 19th and early 20th Century; Prang is credited with popularizing the Christmas card in America. The total digitized collection contains over 1400 images.
Strip the striving out of Romanticism, the fear out of Symbolism, and this is what you get. Endless Joans of Arc, Opheliae, Venuses. Putti, cupids and angels. Nudes. Sentimentalism.
Note the awkward, static poses of Academic art. Any pretext for nudity. There’s a reason this movement fell out of favor. (But are Schiele‘s sneering portraits of his own corrupted harem any more pure as art for having their beauty removed?)
Note Bouguereau’s almost paternal use of the same models sometimes for decades: the same faces appearing on children, youths, mothers, lending his work a hint of something deeper than critic-pleasing cheesecake.
How hard do you come down on Orientalism? No matter how bubbled the glass, it remains a looking outward, a fascination with Otherness. Darkly will be glimpsed our dreams–sweet, cruel, lascivious, and all three–but we look only to be looked back upon. Gleyre’s Persian girl still fixes us in the gaze of an undeniable humanity.
Is there an opposite to Orientalism? Peasant fascination in Academic Art tends to represent only the dream of Arcadia, not any deeper social conscience. (But then there’s Makovsky’s gypsy.)
You know Arcadia. It’s there behind the bluetooth headphones Starbucks paperboard the stab of parking car headlights 69 megapascals of compressive force darkened glass bad music discount raincoat soap as an offensive perfume and cologne as an offensive weapon some girl life moving around you where are you going why have you been that person you should text her you should text her blue asshole lights in the rain darkness glistening like surgical instruments and the dream of Arcadia.
Imagine Peel’s juvenile shepherdess as a photograph leaked onto the internet. Is it any wonder that the soft simplicity of the dream still speaks to us?