The Starry Night is often considered to be the great achievement of Vincent Van Gogh at his peak. Unlike most of his works, it was painted from memory and not in front of the starry sky. Emphasis is placed on the interior life. The emotional life of the painter is clearly indicated by the swirls – which offer a tumultuous description of the sky – and are a radical change from his previous landscapes, which were closer to nature.
Our attention is first drawn to the contrast between the rapid movement of the moon and stars, twirling up in heaven, while down on earth, in the small village, everything seems to be completely still and tranquil. This network of white and yellow, orange and blue stars, seems to palpitate and to trigger the springing forth of a strange spiral that wraps onto itself.
The starry night marvelously illustrates the theme of the brightness of the night, which is developed in the third stanza of the Canticle of brother Sun: Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
“The Canticle of the Sun, writes Eloi Leclerc, also deals with the night. Immediately after celebrating the splendor of the day, Francis turns to the ‘flowers of the shadow’: ‘Sister moon and the stars… clear, precious and beautiful.’ It is interesting to note that what attracts the gaze of the Poverello towards the night, is not its dark face, but its brightness. And so continues Francis’ quest for light, in his observation of the creatures.”
In Olivier Messiaen’s opera Saint Francis of Assisi, the composer surprisingly adds St. Paul’s words (1 Co 15.41) to the stanzas of the Canticle that refer to brother Sun and sister Moon. He puts the following words into the mouth of St. Francis: “The sun has its brightness, and the moon a different brightness. The stars also differ from each other in brightness.”
This luminous triad appears in several places in the Bible, but first in the account of the creation of the world, when on the fourth day, “God made the two great lights: the greater light as the power of the day and the little light as power of the night, and the stars.” In Haydn’s oratorio The Creation, this luminous triad is also present, thus described: “With great splendor, the radiant sun rises, similar to a bridegroom full of delight, a proud and joyful giant, pursuing his course.Quietly progressing and softly shimmering, the moon slides across the silent night. The huge expanse of the dome of heaven sparkles with countless golden stars. “
Olivier Messiaen’s opera St. Francis of Assisi, ends with the death of Francis, and with these words: ” There is one glory of the moon, and another glory of the sun. Alleluia! There is one glory of the terrestrial bodies, and another glory of the celestial bodies. Alleluia! For one star differs from another in glory! So, also, is the resurrection of the dead. Alleluia! Alleluia! ” There is a wide variety of brightness among the celestial bodies. Also, when earthly bodies are resurrected, they will be adjusted to the heavenly state; and there will be a variety of brightness among them.
Sun and moon! bless the Lord: give glory and eternal praise to him! Stars of heaven! bless the Lord: give glory and eternal praise to him!
Georges Morin, ofm