A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery in Prometheus

A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery, Joseph Wright of Derby (oil on canvas, 1766)

 

A key idea of the Age of Enlightenment—that empirical observation grounded in science and reason could best advance society—is expressed by the faces of the individuals in Joseph Wright of Derby’s A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery.

David in this scene takes on the childlike wonder similarly depicted by the two young boys in the painting and of the young woman staring unblinkingly at the Earth floating near its centre.

In the painting  A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery and in our solar system it’s the sun that takes centre stage. In Prometheus, its the Winged Sun that symbolises aspects of the Egyptian sun god. From roughly 2000 BC, the symbol also appears in the Levant and Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. It appears in reliefs with Assyrian rulers and in Hieroglyphic Anatolian as a symbol for royalty, transcribed into Latin as SOL SUUS (literally, “his own self, the Sun”, i.e., “His Majesty”). David is in the centre of the Orrery, Weyland’s son, next in line for Weyland Industries(given Vickers demise).

Wright’s painting captures a moment of Enlightenment, the philosophical shift in the 18th Century away from traditional religious beliefs of the universe and toward verifiable by observations and scientific approach. *It is important to note the term given this new way of thinking. “Enlightenment” indicates an active process, undertaken by an individual by a group.

Joseph Wright of Derby became the unofficial artist of the Enlightenment, his use of chiaroscuro (contrast between light and dark) depicting scientists and philosophers in ways previously reserved for Biblical heroes and Greek gods.

Which is quite interesting given the fact David is the Biblical Anti-Hero as he is both Satan and the Titan Prometheus. *A false equivelancy is given to the role of David and Prometheus since he does not steal the fire/black ooze to benefit mankind but to destroy it.

Other than Thomas Gainsborough (One of his art pieces is also present in Prometheus Transmission), who spent much of his career in the high-society resort town of Bath, Wright was the most prominent English painter of the 18th Century to spend the majority of his career outside of London. Operating without the constraints of the mainstream London art world, Wright was free to explore a general interest in science with his friends, a group that included Erasmus Darwin (Grandfather of Charles Darwin) and other members of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, an informal learned society which met to discuss scientific topics of the day.

In the 1760s Wright began to explore the traditional boundaries of various genres of painting. According to the French academies of art, the highest genre of painting was history painting, which depicted Biblical or classical subjects to demonstrate a moral lesson.

David and Shaw’s mission is both a pursuit of knowledge, you could argue David’s is rooted in science and Shaw’s is rooted in Faith.

David, as he experiences the projection, comes to an epiphany when he notices the sarcophagus the Engineer is sleeping in and goes to notify Sir Peter Weyland. After his ordeals on LV223 his conversion to science is a conversion to creator.

Prometheus was filmed in 3D, arguably the orrery scene is one of the most striking scene in the entire movie, as a homage to this Philisophical painting it is a masterpiece of the Alien series.