October 14, 2011

Renaissance UFO Woodcut

        Here's a nifty confluence of wood block printing and speculative fiction!  This woodcut made by Hanns Glaser is entitled "Heavenly apparition over Nuremberg on April 14, 1561."  The woodcut was actually made in 1566, based on reports of what UFO enthusiasts call a mass sighting of an alien battle in the skies over Germany.  The report, printed in a broadsheet called the Nuremberg Gazette, says that at dawn on April 14, 1561 many people looking at the sky witnessed large numbers of "cylindrical shapes from which emerged black, red, orange and blue-white spheres that darted about."  Crosses the color of blood and a large black spear-shaped object were also involved, fighting with one another for about an hour, after which time some of the shapes flew into the sun while others fell to earth in clouds of steam.  Some people of the time took the vision as a divine warning.  Some people of this time take the account as proof of an extraterrestrial space battle.
        I was unable to determine much about the authenticity of the "newspaper" account.  The document is in the Zentralbibliothek Zürich's collection of early news, but it's certainly anomalous.  It's hard to find any unbiased information discussing this stuff.  (Perhaps this shouldn't come as a surprise.  I used to get annoyed with "In Search Of" and such television programs, that begin with intriguing questions which always, always, ALWAYS end up inconclusive and unresolved.)  But the authenticity of Hanns Glaser's 1566 woodcut seems to be unquestioned.  The question is just what, in fact, it shows - how accurate a depiction is it of whatever happened five years earlier, and just what exactly did people see on that April morning?
        My brother and I have come up with four plausible scenarios.
    a)  Aliens A are attempting to conquer the Earthlings but Aliens B arrive to defend Earth.  B's win, and leave without making contact, nobly following their Prime Directive not to interact with the primitive species.
    b)  Aliens A are escorting captured rebels (Aliens B) from their remote base to the Galaxy headquarters.  As they pass Earth, Aliens B attempt to make a break for it, but are recaptured by Aliens A, who then proceed upon their way.
    c1)  Future Humans A come back in time with their space age technologies to assassinate some Nurembergian ancestor of Adolph Hitler.  However, Future Nazis B come back and thwart them, so Hitler does indeed rise to power as we know.
    c2)  Future Resistance Fighters A come back in time with their space age technologies to assassinate some Nurembergian ancestor of Adolph Hitler's unstoppable mad science genius Von Schnell.  Future Nazis B attempt to stop them, but fail in a thrilling battle in the skies.  The Von Schnell progenitor is assassinated, thus there is no unstoppable Nazi science genius after all, and the Allies are indeed able to defeat the Nazis as we know.
        Whatever the truth of the celestial phenomenon, Glaser's woodcut is something real to be enjoyed.  In the image I like the city under the black arrow just like Theed beneath a star destroyer.  I like the little Renaissance gents pointing up excitedly (and understandably so).  I like the way the sun looks sort of bemused as balls hover around his face like pesky flies, and crescents arc gigantically behind him.  It's certainly intriguing!  When it comes to UFOs I'm a skeptical agnostic, but when it comes to block prints, I'm a true believer.  This Glaser print is a perfect example of how block prints, like photography nowadays, can be timeless fine art or a sensational journalistic tool reflecting the popular preoccupations of their times.

[Picture: Himmelserscheinung über Nürnberg vom 14. April 1561, woodcut with hand painting, by Hanns Glaser, 1566.  (Image from Wikimedia Commons, with thanks.)]

6 comments:

  1. This was fun. Love your theories, but don't I see several blue boxes in the town? Surely one brought Doctor Who, just in time to save us all.

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  2. Nan, you are so right - how could I have missed the Tardis in the woodcut? The Doctor is surely involved somehow.

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  3. Fascinating stuff -- I suggest that you get the opinion of a historian-planetary scientist to see what actually happened back then. Speculation is fun, but there might be a widely agreed upon explanation. Moreover, what does the text beneath the picture say? Does it give us any further hint as to the meaning of the carving?
    The Aging Wordsmith

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  4. There is not a widely agreed upon explanation -- hence the free rein of speculation! The text beneath the picture is the broadsheet account from the time, describing the celestial apparition with all its spheres, crosses, and so on.

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  5. It really appears to me to be a 'pagan' metaphor. The woodcarving shows a sun, note it has arcs left and right - aka EAST AND WEST, which represent the direction of the soul as it heads to the afterlife, and the force of creation on Earth, the eastern sun rise has always been such a symbol, and the western sun set is where the soul goes when you die. To illustrate that there is a socking great big arrow pointing west! That looks like no UFO whatever. The rest of the sky is filled with standard Pagan and traditional fayer - flutes (5 fingered, as they should be), crosses which are also of the 'pagan' form, and a fire on the right that I think may simply be a cremation. The people standing around it, inside a circular bank, are looking mighty relaxed if it was some kind of UFO laser attack.

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  6. Ooh, flutes? I like it! But can they please be giant alien space flutes?

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