The unexpected math behind Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”


The human brain has this amazing capability to visualize and understand patterns. One of the most complex patterns to have existed is that of – Turbulent flow used in Fluid dynamics. Turbulence has been very complex and difficult to understand mathematically. But on the other hand, it has been really amazing and creative to depict it in – ART.


This marvelous art was painted in the June of 1889. Van Gogh was painting the view from the window of his room at the Saint Paul de Mausole Asylum of a sunset. He created this art by making use of circular brush strokes to emulate the night sky full of swirling clouds and stars. Van Gogh and other artists of that time used to capture light in its motion in their art. Just like he did with stars and twinkling light from the stars which looks like it is melting and twinkling through the blue night sky. This effect that we see in real life is due to the concept of luminance. The slightly primitive part of our visual cortex sees the contrast of light and its motion but not the color tends to blend the different colored areas together in case of having the same luminance. But the other part of the brain sees the colors without them being blending together. When these actions take place at once the light comes across as being flickering and radiating differently.  With the help of these visuals Van Goh was able to capture the light in its life form.


The Russian Mathematician – Andrey Kolmogorov, sixty years after Starry Night made sense of Turbulence by making use of the energy which is found in the turbulent fluid. By experimenting what Kolmogorov stated, it was found out that he was pretty close to explaining how turbulence works. But it is to this day unsolved mystery in physics to understand how turbulence completely works. We can visually see turbulence in the big red spot found on Jupiter, clouds and interstellar dust particles.

In the year 2004, with the help of Hubble Space Telescope, the scientists found out eddies of dust and gas around a star. This enticed the scientists about Van Gogh’s – Starry Night. The scientists figured out the relation between the turbulence of luminance used in the painting and that stated by Kolmogorov has many similarities. With the use of digitization, it was concluded that the painting’s depiction of luminance was very congruent to fluid turbulence.

It is very surprising and intriguing that at a time when Van Gogh was going through a rough time with his mental health, he was able depict some very profound and complex concepts of nature revolving around movement, fluidity and light.

Read More


Related Articles


For Worksheets & PrintablesJoin Now