This artwork is a copy given to Montréal of a first posthumous impression made from the plaster original of a statue of Nicolas Copernicus conserved at the Thorvaldsen Museum. In 1973, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Copernicus’s birth, the city of Chicago received a copy of the work by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, which was placed outside the city’s planetarium. Thorvaldsen had made the original in 1822; the following year, the statue was installed facing the Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. In 1944, the Germans removed it from its base and eventually abandoned it in a village in Silesia. Found by the Allies after the war, it was returned to its original site. To give his statue an authentic face, Thorvaldsen was inspired by copies made of two self-portraits painted by Copernicus. His figure, who is exercising the functions of canon, wears a hair style and clothing common in Poland during the period. When he had a break from his many ecclesiastic duties, Copernicus, above all a scholar, mathematician, and astronomer, devoted himself to observation and research. His position and the instruments that he is holding testify to this: on one side, a spherical astrolabe, a model based on the solar system, and on the other, an open set of compasses, emblem of the hard sciences and mathematical rigour.
Born in 1473 in Torun, Poland, Nicolas Copernicus grew up without a father. His uncle, the bishop of Warmia, who took charge of his education. He attended the University of Cracow and then, in 1495, went to the University of Bologna to study for a doctorate in canonical law. His first statements regarding his theory on movement of the planets date from 1513. In maintaining that the planets orbit the Sun, he was stating that man was not the centre of a universe made for him. In 1616, Pope Paul V condemned Copernicus’s ideas, which were judged contrary to the Holy Scriptures, and excommunicated Copernicus. The Catholic Church rehabilitated his memory only in October 1992.