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The Universe in Images: an Art-Historical Approach to the Plurality of Worlds
The idea of a plurality of worlds, consolidated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, is one of the most inspiring and exciting chapters in the history of astronomy. Nevertheless, one crucial aspect has yet to be written. In this paper I propose to recompose the fascinating visual mosaic around the subject, in order to establish the basis for a largely forgotten iconography. It represents a key period in the evolution of the notions around the large-scale structure of the universe, one of the milestones in Early Modern cosmology. This tradition continued until the nineteenth century, when astronomers such as William Herschel still considered the existence of multiple similar inhabited systems. Today, when extrasolar planets and the cosmic web are in the forefront of the astrophysical vocabulary and its images are so popular, reflecting on the visual genealogy of this field acquires special relevance. This paper invites the reader to look at the sky through a telescope provided with art historical lenses.