November 19, 2021

Observing the Moon

         In honor of last night’s lunar eclipse, I have for you today a collection of prints depicting the moon.  I begin with a diagram from 1540 that actually depicts an eclipsed moon in the shadow of the earth.  It doesn’t show us the weird rusty color, but I do like the way the moon’s face is in negative from the moon in its full light.  This wood block print was carefully hand colored, as part of one of the most lavish scientific works of the renaissance.
        The moon, of course, is one of the things that all humans have in common, so it’s no surprise that I was able to find beautiful depictions of the moon from all around the world.  Next up is a Japanese view with plum blossoms, which means it’s not an autumn moon, 
but I love it so much I had to share.  I particularly like how the great expanse of night sky that fills
 most of the composition is not really flat and empty.  You can see the wonderful wood grain in it.
        Travelling back in both space and time to renaissance Europe (about 150 years later than the first piece, however), we get a wonderful view of men observing the moon.  One points up at it, seeing something of significance or wonder.  This delightfully bold wood block print comes from a Hebrew prayer book, so I can’t read the 17th century Hebrew to know what the illustration has to do with the text.  It has a nicely stylized face in the crescent, and also demonstrates a characteristic of early wood block prints that is at once a ridiculous waste of the medium and endearingly backwards.  That is, the stars are black.  In a medium that does nothing better than black backgrounds with white shapes carved into them, a medium perfect for just such a scene as a night sky 
with glowing moon and stars
, the renaissance artists stubbornly and obtusely insist on making their prints copy a drawing in black ink on white paper, even though it’s both far more work and far less attractive to put black stars on a striped sky.
        So I shrug and move on to some modern depictions of the moon.  This is a silkscreen rather than a relief block print, but I include it anyway because I love the compare-and-contrast with the other depictions.  Even though it comes from the traditional imagery of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation of the Pacific Northwest Coast, it shares with 
European moons the image of a human face.  I love the eyes that may be closed, but perhaps are simply looking downward, as the moon does.  Either way, it is serene, yet still with a strong sense of motion in all the curving shapes.
        And finally, another piece that could perhaps be a depiction of an actual eclipse, although the moon on the far side of Earth from the sun is not wholly shadowed.  This is made as a reduction print, and has wonderful colors as the fiery sun shades into a black sky.
        Were you able to observe the eclipse last night?   There was nothing to see here, as it was completely overcast, but I’ve been lucky enough to see a lunar eclipse once before, so I wasn’t too disappointed.  And the block prints are always there, rain or shine!


[Pictures: Diagram of lunar eclipse, hand colored wood block print from Astronomicum Caesareum by Petrus Apianus, 1540 (Image from Met Museum);

Moon over White Plum, color wood block print by Ohara Koson, c 1910 (Image from Hara Shobo);

Woodcut from Birkat ham-mazon, 1669 (Image from Bayerische Staatsbibliothek);

4 Phases of the Moon, silkscreen by Francis Dick, 2012 (Image from Cedar Hill Long House);

Sun Moon Earth, reduction linocut by Kylie Dally (Image from Etsy shop PotionsPress).]

4 comments:

Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

The Hebrew one with black stars on a white (striped) sky, reminds me of how children consistently draws blue clouds on a white sky ;)

Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

Oops and sorry for the error - blame it on my being Danish (we do not have plural/singular werb forms).

JadeLi said...

Always interesting to see how various cultures depict the moon. It has been really bright the last couple of nights. I haven't seen it directly but its glow has been lighting the atrium floor nicely. The best night light of all.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Charlotte, no need to apologize; your English is fantastic.
Jade, I love it when the moon is bright enough to make shadows!