Anon., Augsburger Wunderzeichenbuch. Augsburg, c. 1552. © The Cartin Collection.

The Augsburg ‘Book of Miracles’ illustrates strange and wonderful occurrences, from the Great Flood described in Genesis up to the mid-sixteenth century, the time of the book’s production. The images are attributed to two artists who were associated with Augsburg, Heinrich Vogtherr and Hans Burgkmair the Younger. This image depicts the dramatic intrusion of the cosmos into the terrestrial realm, as described in the text below it:

In the year A.D. 1401, a large comet with a peacock tail appeared in the sky over Germany. This was followed by a great, terrible plague in Swabia.

Cosmic events were believed to have tangible physical effects: this comet brings or foretells plague. The vivid contrast between the quietly slumbering Renaissance city-scape, submerged in darkness, and the fiery magnificence of the comet with details highlighted in gold, conveys something of the awe that looking up at the heavens could inspire.