I tried to think of works of art that inspired a similar wonder in me, but they kept getting drowned out by a work of science and engineering: The Hubble Space Telescope‘s Deep Field images.
This is what science is all about. They persuaded people to build the most amazing astronomical machine in history, and then pointed it towards places where nothing is. No stars in our galaxy, no clouds of dust that will one day coalesce into solar systems. And they found that even the emptiest part of the sky is filled with thousands of entire galaxies. Not just there, of course. Behind every star we can see, there’s a similar multitude of island universes, drowned out by the closer light sources.
The Silmarillion came out before the Hubble, so I didn’t have this in my mind when the Elves first awoke and saw the stars and said “Behold!” by the shores of Cuiviénen. But now I know what they meant.
This particular image was taken in the near infrared, not visible light, because these galaxies are too old to be seen in visible light. They upshifted the light to what it must have looked like when it left the sources. These galaxies are so old that many of them do not yet contain stars. We’re ahead of the Elves now. Pace Mithrandir, this is wizardry indeed!