Astronomer Copernicus, or Conversations with God is an oil painting by the Polish artist Jan Matejko, finished in 1873, depicting Nicolaus Copernicus observing the heavens from a balcony by a tower near the cathedral in Frombork (seen in the back). Currently the painting is in the collection of the Jagiellonian University of Kraków, which purchased it from a private owner with money donated by the Polish public.
The painting depicts a kneeling, inspired Nicolaus Copernicus observing the heavens transitioning from night to dawn. He is on a balcony, near or at the cathedral in Frombork, surrounded by various astronomical tools and aids. The scene likely portrays the epiphany moment of Copernicus profound discovery, with his own Heliocentric model drawn on a large flat board (based on an illustration from De revolutionibus) standing next to him.
The exact location depicted by Matejko is fictional; modern scholars are still looking for the exact location of the Copernicus observatory, and agree that Matejko’s portrayal was more of a “romantic vision”. Whereas Matejko shows Copernicus on a tower, in reality his small observatory was probably set up at ground level, possibly in the gardens near his house.
The main features of the composition include a symmetrical focal point with atmospheric perspective around the subject, a radial balance of light arranged around a central element, and dramatic contrasts with dark colours in the periphery. Copernicus’s epiphany or ecstasy is captured through the skillful use of lighting. The models for Copernicus are known to have been Doctor Henryk Levittoux and Matejko’s nephew, Antoni Serafiński.