The National Gallery of Art reports that "For several months in the winter of 1816-1817, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld vied with his friends, brothers Ferdinand and Friedrich Olivier, in making precise drawings of dried leaves."

Julius created this tiny pen and ink drawing as part of their competition:

What a blissful way to remain warm: rubbing your impressions of nature up against each other.

There were plenty of dried leaves in 1816, which was known as "the year without a summer." Julius and his friends, isolated from the world and immersed in their game, had no way of knowing that on the other side of the planet, the most deadly explosion in recorded history had taken place: the volcanic eruption of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia. This "super-colossal explosion" was heard over 2,000 kilometers away. It belched massive quantities of volcanic ash into the sky, blocking the sun and creating volcanic winter as far away as Europe where Julius sat peacefully drawing. Leaves died and crops failed, causing the worst famine of the 19th century.

Meanwhile, different types of explosions were taking place in the political realm. The great Napoleon Bonaparte who had shaken governments to their knees and cast Europe into turmoil had recently met his downfall in the Battle of Waterloo. In 1816, Napoleon's entire family was banished from France forever.

The epic events taking place outside while Julius and his friends focused on dry leaves were so huge and momentous, they make us stop to ponder the grand sweep of things.

Yet, if you are seeking a finite expression of the infinite you are more likely to find it in this gentle little drawing by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld.

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