The Power behind Starry Night: Vincent’s Empyrean Vision

Jared Baxter explores new concepts and theories on van Gogh’s Starry Night and asserts that poetic inspiration arose from Dante Alighieri’s heavenly zenith, the Trinitarian Empyrean, where, in the final lines of his epic poem, the pilgrim’s dream is realised.

What has confounded the general public and academia alike for over a century is the source of van Gogh’s inspiration for Starry Night. Theories funnel into two schools, the literal and the literary. The literal includes both he painted what he saw and the hallucinatory genius arguments, while the literary suggest that inspiration blossomed from some written source: Hugo, Whitman or the Bible, usually. This presentation conceptualizes the painting should fall into both categories, but that poetic inspiration arose from Dante Alighieri’s heavenly zenith, the Trinitarian Empyrean, where, in the final lines of his epic poem, the pilgrim’s dream is realised:

“ma già volgeva il mio disio e ’l velle, sì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stele.”

“like a wheel turning in perfect balance my yearning aligned in the Loving Spirit that moves the sun and all the other stars.”

Existing van Gogh letters reveal ten Alighieri references. Vincent’s affinity with the poet established, the degree is calibrated, considering his rapacity as a reader, progress as a pilgrim and reverence for those whom held Dante in highest esteem including Giotto, Delacroix, Hugo, Carlyle, Corot, Doré and Rodin. Upon comparing existing theories (Boime, Schapiro, Soth and Werness), the Empyrean shines as the simplest.


Jared Baxter

Over the last three years, Jared Baxter’s research has focused on Vincent van Gogh, in particular, how Vincent’s enduring embrace of Christianity manifested itself in his later life and artwork. Contending van Gogh painted a uniquely innovative Last Supper, he presented Van Gogh’s Last Supper: Decoding the Apotheosis in Symbolist Easter Eggs in Brighton, England, at The European Conference on Arts and Humanities 2013. The paper was subsequently published in the January, 2014 Art History Supplement and the July, 2014 Anistoriton Journal of History, Archaeology and Art History. Offering insight into how van Gogh viewed Symbolist art, in September, 2014 he presented Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox: Vincent van Gogh’s Ideation of the Artist’s Plight and Destiny in Providence, Rhode Island at IAFOR’s North American Conference on Arts and Humanities. The paper was distilled and published as an article in Eye Magazine’s Winter, 2014 issue. Very much a product of the IAFOR Conference series, he credits these symposia with helping him find his voice in the academic community. With three more papers on the go, offering new insights into Quay with Sand Barges, The Red Vineyard and Portrait of Dr Gachet, he is completing a nonfiction narrative, Discovering van Gogh: Vincent’s Last Supper.

Mr Baxter was a Featured Presenter at The Asian Conference on Arts and Humanities 2015 (ACAH2015) in Osaka, Japan.

Watch a follow up interview with Mr Baxter on his research and Vincent van Gogh.

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