Benedict's Vision: An Eclipse

The Vision of Saint Benedict

This painting by Cosmas Damian Asam Bavarian, 1686–1739, represents the artist's desire to capture Saint Benedict's ecstatic, mystical vision in naturalistic terms, via light that is a metaphor for the divine presence. The canvas shows an elderly saint who, confronted by a solar eclipse, seems to experience a seizure—as well as enlightenment—at the moment when light erupts from the celestial sphere, as described in Benedict’s vision.

The artist accurately depicted the solar corona surrounding the moon, which is obscured by the sun as well as by the light that bursts forth from the edge of the dark lunar disk in the moment after totality. This phenomenon—when the first ray of light breaks through a valley on the edge of the moon’s silhouette—is known as the “diamond-ring effect”. This suggests that Asam witnessed the eclipse of May 13, 1733, and perhaps combined his own observations of it with descriptions from contemporary scientists.