The Grand Palais in Paris is devoting an exhibition to the moon from 3 April to 22 July 2019. Entitled “The Moon. From real travel to imaginary journeys”, it will incorporate many works of art from antiquity to the present day, from Europe and elsewhere, as testimony to the relationship that man has always maintained with the Moon.
This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of man’s first steps on the Moon, which has inspired artists, painters, composers and poets since the beginning of time. Starting with the expedition of Apollo 11 in July 1966, we travel through time and through the lunar journeys conceived by these artists.
Since antiquity, the idea of going to the Moon by the craziest means unleashed inventiveness and the wildest imaginations. Neil Armstrong’s “big step for mankind” in July 1969 was to usher in a new era and a new relationship between man and the moon. Imagination never lost its intensity, but great questions were added to the fantasy about humanity and its future.
From Galileo’s telescope to photographs
Since the time of Galileo, more and more precise instruments have made it possible to observe the Moon and draw the first maps of it. The exhibition includes a replica of Galileo’s telescope, the earliest drawings and maps from the mid-17th century, and photographs, illustrating the search for an objective truth about the Moon.
This distant star has always been a close deity, in human form – sometimes man, sometimes woman. While in Egypt, Mesopotamia and in modern Hinduism the Moon is deified in a masculine form (Thoth, Nefertum, Sin, Chandra), it was female in classical antiquity: Artemis, Diana, Selene, Hecate.
The star with three faces
The exhibition follows three ‘moods’ of the moon. At first gentle, it protects and inspires the man who dreams, loves, sleeps, prays and meditates (cue Girodet’s painting, in which a sleeping Endymion is visited by Diane in the form of a ray of light).
Then the moon is changeable, versatile. Its mutations regulate man’s time and organise his calendar. Popular beliefs are the origin of the mood of women, described as ‘lunatics’... the moon’s rhythms become optical phenomena inspiring many 20th-century artists.
Finally, its third mood or face is that of darkness, melancholy or madness: disturbing, the Moon becomes black or demonic, and is a source of fantasies and fears.
“The moon was serene and played on the waves” - Victor Hugo, Clair de Lune
In the last part of the exhibition, the Moon encourages contemplation, seeming at once close and mysterious, and revealing itself under a strange, intimate, reflected light. It ultimately becomes an expression of beauty.