One of the most memorable images from early cinematic history has to be the man-in-the-moon from Georges Méliès’ A trip to the moon (Le Voyage dans la Lune), his influential and visionary 1902 adventure/fantasy/sci-fi tale which is often considered among the very best of 20th century cinema.
Depictions of the man-in-the-moon can be found throughout history, and across the globe. A longstanding European tradition holds that the man was banished to the moon for some crime. Christian lore commonly held that he is the man caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath and sentenced by God to death by stoning (left). In Norse mythology, Máni («moon») is the male personification of the moon who crosses the sky in a horse-drawn carriage. He is continually pursued by the Great Wolf Hati who catches him at Ragnarök (middle). In Chinese mythology, the goddess Chang’e is stranded upon the moon after foolishly consuming a double dose of an immortality potion (right).
It’s not surprising that we find many depictions of the man-in-the-moon in the decorative and fine arts. Here are just a few examples from the upcoming San Francisco Fall Art & Antiques Show. From Kentshire, a pair of three-color gold and sapphire earrings depicting a Pierrot clown sitting atop a crescent moon.
From Milord Antiques (left), a pair of gilt and silver wood, metal and glass floor lamps with reverse painted depictions of the Sun and Moon by Piero Fornasetti and from Earle D. Vandekar of Knightsbridge (right) a vintage Piero Fornasetti Astronomici plate.
From epoca in San Francisco: brass octagonal coffee table by Mexican artist Sergio Bustamante, circa 1970’s/80’s. Bustamante is primarily known for ceramic and metal sculptures, making these coffee tables a rare find.
Scientifically speaking, the man-in-the-moon face is actually made up of various lunar maria or “seas” because, for a long time, astronomers believed they were large bodies of water. They are in fact large areas formed by lava that covered up old craters. The near side of the moon, containing these maria that make up the man, is always facing Earth. The moon’s rotation has slowed to the point where it rotates exactly once on each trip around the Earth and thus, the near side of the moon is always “looking” at us earthlings.