JANUARY 7-8, 2017 at Florida State University, Tallahassee
“Don Caspar presenting Kepler’s solar system in Dürer’s pentagonally illuminated sanctum,”
a montage by James Clarage.
I had the privilege of being invited to Don Caspar’s Symposium, which brought together many of his close associates, students, and second-generation students from Brandeis and all the other places where he has made an impression with his extraordinary creativity and wit. A wider circle of people, like myself, were invited on the grounds of interactions and collaborations going back many years. The Symposium was a mixture of presentations of reviews, original research, and collections of anecdotes illuminating Don’s Leonardo da Vinci-like range of creativity but also reflecting a remarkable degree of persistence in his projects and hours-long conversations with students and peers. The closest comparison I have in my mind is Antonio Vivaldi — the composer known to work three days and nights straight on the scores of a new commission, before collapsing into a deep sleep lasting for another two days. In fact, it was astounding for me to see a 90-year old so active, so full of energy and capable of recalling meticulous details of conversations from decades back.
James Clarage, professor of physics at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, gave a presentation about his creation of the image of Don Caspar in Albrecht Dürer’s Renaissance setting (the image reproduced above), and the rationale for his choice of each element: foremost Kepler’s model of the solar system, as drawn by Dürer, explained as a set of spheres defined by symmetrical bodies and reflecting the harmony of divine creation; the sleeping dog (which now in turn reminds me of Vivaldi, as I speak); the pentamers arranged in three-fold symmetry in the window panes; and many other things with purposeful allusion to a man who has deeply thought about symmetry, order, and their necessary disturbance in biological systems.