looking at the sun

Let's experience the sun light once again in this luminous room!

The public enters under a beautiful pergola of grapevines, whose shadows shelter the audience from a blinding summer sun light above the foliage. What are these circular spots of light on the paving, on the walls, on the spectators' faces?

room2_photo1 room2_photo2

If we happen to stand under a foliage in a bright day, we see numerous spots of light on the ground, on the trunks of trees, on our clothes and faces. Some of them are more intense, others are more faint. But all of them are of the same round shape, they are images of the sun! An experiment with screens, lenses and a projector clarifies how the holes in the foliage project everywhere myriads of images of the sun. And when the moon approaches the sun and covers it during the eclipse, all the images clearly reveal this new scene.

One day Dante Alighieri was walking near the woods of Ravenna. Lost in his thoughts, probably directed to Florence, his home city, from which he was exiled, he suddenly sees, from beneath a bridge, a ray of sun hitting the still water of the river, and then reflected, going back up, touching a house and directed towards the sky. He says:

E sė come secondo raggio suole
uscir dal primo e risalire in suso,
pur come pellegrin che tornar vuole
cosi' de l'atto suo, per li occhi infuso
ne l'imagine mia, il mio si fece, e fissi
li occhi al sole oltre nostr'uso.

(Dante Alighieri, La Divina Commedia, PAR. I. 49-54)

And as a second ray will issue from the
first and re-ascend, much like a pilgrim
who seeks his home again, so on her action
fed by my eyes to my imagination,
my action drew, and on the sun I set
my sight more than we usually do.


What happened? Dante remained sitting for a long time, with his look fixed on the ray that went back up. Where did it come from? "It is like me, - he says, - a pilgrim exiled from Florence, who wants to return home". Dante Alighieri sees the sun reflected from the surface of the river, and a ray of light going back to the sky, where it came from. Here he sees Beatrice looking at the sun. And in her eyes he catches the reflection of the image of the sun. The eye is like a spherical mirror: when illuminated, it reflects the entire scene. "To look at you, Beatrice, is like looking at the sun!" This is how Dante guesses this fascinating and mysterious link between reflection and imitation.


It is impossible to look directly at the sun. Let's look at it when it is still hidden behind a mountain. Its light, diffracted by the borders of an obstacle, spreads to all directions and reaches us in the shadow of the mountain. When the sun emerges from behind an object, it is always accompanied by rays.
Now everybody starts looking. Looking at the sun. It appears behind a big transparent sheet of Plexiglas, surrounded by numerous circles, following the spectator as he moves. Visitors try looking at the sun through scratched sheets of glass, gaps and fingers of the hand, and they discover that the sun never appears alone, but accompanied by circles or rays, sometimes in all colours.
Then, a curtain is opened to reveal a big bare tree with the sun behind it. Its branches, illuminated by the sunlight, reflect the light towards our eyes. But not all of them. Just the ones, which form circles centered in the sun, follow the visitor's movements.

room2_photo4 room2_photo5 room2_photo7

These same circles and rays can be discovered in art, for example, in Van Gogh's paintings around the sun, as well as around his own face, in the self-portrait. "I'm the sun - he seems to say - I'm looking so deeply at the sun that it emerges, indeed, in my eyes".

previous room

next room