El Cielo de Salamanca

Discover this fascinating work—El Cielo de Salamanca (The Sky Over Salamanca)—preserved at the University of Salamanca. Become an astronomer of an ancient universe and explore the magic of its characters step by step.

By Universidad de Salamanca

Based on the texts by José María Martínez Frías, a celebrated history of arts professor at the University of Salamanca

The Sky of Salamanca (c.1480) by Fernando GallegoUniversidad de Salamanca

Vestiges of a magnificent work

Around 1480, the painter Fernando Gallego was commissioned to paint the vault of the Old Library at the University of Salamanca. The area remaining today is the third part of the full ceiling painted by the artist.

A Summer Night's Sky

The full work showed the 48 Ptolemaic constellations and the planets known at the time. The artist was inspired to create it by a night's sky in August of 1475. The part remaining today shows 14 constellations, the Sun, and Mercury.

The Sun

Atop a chariot pulled by four horses is the Sun, considered a planet at that time. He is dressed in a typical Gothic style, with a scepter in his right hand and a crown of golden rays shining brilliantly. The constellation of Leo, his destination, can be seen in the wheel of his chariot.


Mercury appears to the right of the Sun. He sits on a cart pulled by two eagles, and carries his staff in his right hand. The figures of Gemini and Virgo can be seen in the wheels. The Romans called him the messenger of the Gods, since he moved faster than the rest of the planets.


Virgo is one of the most beautiful characters in the composition. In a classical style, she is shown as an angel with spread wings. Her face and clothing are reminiscent of other models previously painted by Gallego. She was the virgin goddess who symbolized world justice.


Shown as a masculine figure with a horse's legs, the constellation of Sagittarius embodies satyr Kratos, a poet who lived with the Muses on Mount Helicon. He holds in his hands a bow and arrow based on his known prowess as a hunter.


Scorpio can be found in the sky above Zeus as a symbol of strength and courage. The image of the arachnid created by Fernando Gallego almost turns it into an alien Gothic species crossing the sky.


Zeus placed Leo among the stars after his battle with Hercules. The figure portrayed by Gallego follows the typical heraldic templates of the era. He is a lion with prominent legs, with a long tongue sticking out of his jaws and a strange tail with a tassel on the end.


Reflected by the artist as scales, Libra is the only zodiac constellation that is not represented by a living being. It is the symbol of balance, as the days and nights have the same duration when the Sun is located at the beginning of this sign.


The southern constellation of Hydra is shown as a serpent over 23 feet (7 m) in length. Its serpentine shape is brimming with stars, combining the small constellations of Corvus and Crater. By its side stands a slender tree, Robur, which does not represent a constellation.


The Centaur is related to Chiron, a wise doctor and teacher of heroes such as Jason and Achilles. The figure holds a beast in his hand, ready to be sacrificed. His piercing look and his locks are typical of some of the human-like beings in Gallego's paintings.


Next to the Centaur is the Ara, the place where the beast will be slaughtered. It is an altar with roaring flames, painted in a Gothic style with a classical typology inscription typical of Fernando Gallego's paintings.

Corona Australis

Related to Sagittarius, the Corona Australis appears between his forelegs. Though there is no myth to characterize it, it is linked to the god Dionysus, chosen by Zeus as a mortal lover.


Boötes is one of the figures who has suffered most from the passage of time. Shown as a farmer, the ancient gods gave him different occupations. These included herdsman, or Boṓtēs in Greek, which gave the constellation its name.


Also having deteriorated over time, Ophiucus is shown as a nude man with a snake coiled around his body. Some astrologers consider him to be the thirteenth zodiac sign.


Though there are now notable shortcomings in the pictorial layer, we can see that Gallego made the figure of Hercules highly dynamic. He appears nude, with the jaws of the Nemean lion he had killed glistening in the form of a helmet. He carries its skin as a shield.

Winds and Stars

The winds Zephyrus, Notus, Eurus, and Boreas emulate human heads with puffed-up cheeks full of air. On the other hand, the stars defining the constellations were the result of careful study by the painter. The rest are painted in a uniform and random manner.

Credits: All media
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