January 18, 2023


         I love the moon, and I’m hardly alone in this.  The moon has exerted a more-than-gravitational pull on humans since the first time we looked into the night sky.  I've shared lots of previous posts featuring art inspired by the moon (Observing the Moon), poetry (Singing on the Moon
D is for Diddle), and speculative fiction about the moon (A True Story; The Great Moon Hoax).  Today I’ve got two more pieces depicting lunar landscapes with a distinctly speculative bent.
        The first is an engraving by Filippo Morghen (Italy, 1730-c1807), and it comes from a suite of ten etchings entitled “The collection of the most notable things seen by John Wilkins, erudite English bishop, on his famous trip from the Earth to the Moon.”  I love that Morghen basically imagined a sci fi adventure, but simply hints at it by depicting highlights.  John Wilkins, you may remember, was a real person, whom you can find in my previous post about his 1638 book Discovery of a World in the Moone, in which Wilkins proposes logical reasons to suppose that the moon may well be inhabited.  So Morghen took this a step farther and imagined that Wilkins had indeed reached the moon.  This particular piece from the collection is entitled “Pumpkins used as dwellings to secure against wild beasts,” and depicts enormous pumpkin vines towering up out of a swamp, with windows, doors, and ladders.  I love the detail of laundry hanging out, as well as the way Morghen has made the plants in the foreground spill very slightly over the border of his etching.  A particularly interesting thing that didn’t occur to me immediately, however, is the reminder that pumpkins are a New World plant, and the tiny moon-people in this image were also clearly inspired by people of 
the New World.  For Europeans of this time period, the discovery of the Americas seemed as amazing and fantastical as reaching the moon.  New worlds could be discovered and explored (and exploited), so why should the moon be any more improbable?
        I’ve paired this with another lunar landscape, drawn by E. Hering in 1901 as an illustration of The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells.  Over a hundred years later and artists were still imagining that the moon would be covered in giant vegetables!  Now that yet another century has passed, we all know the surface of the moon is just dust, so we have to push our fantasies either under the surface of the moon, or onto other bodies farther into space.  As for me, I confess that my love of the moon has no desire that it support life, or that people go there… indeed, I think its distance and isolation are part of the appeal.  But I still am charmed by these images of a strange and swampy sister world.

[Pictures: Pumpkins used as dwellings to secure against wild beasts, engraving by Filippo Morghen, after 1778 (Image from The Met);

The crest on which we were was high and commanded a wide prospect of the crater landscape, illustration by E.Hering from The Cosmopolitan, March 1901 (Image from Google Books).]

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