Van Gogh likely based his famed Starry Night on this scientific illustration of the Whirlpool Galaxy by one William Parsons that appeared in a 19th century popular astronomy tome, according to Michael Benson's new book Cosmigraphics, a history of our efforts to illustrate the universe.
From Studio 360:
Among many of the beautiful depictions of galaxies made possible by increasingly powerful telescopes was one drawing of the Whirlpool Galaxy by William Parsons. That image, from the mid-19thcentury, created a sensation in the United Kingdom, Benson says. "It made its way into a French book popularizing astronomy by Camille Flammarion, the Carl Sagan of the 19th century." And it bears a striking resemblance to Van Gogh's spiraling stars in "Starry Night." "We believe that drawing led directly to 'Starry Night,' the most famous artistic depiction of the night sky. Either it was in the library of the asylum in the south of France, or he saw it in Paris."
Cosmigraphics by Michael Benson (Amazon)