Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipsed - The art of the solar eclipse through time

Howard Russell Butler (1856–1934), Solar Eclipse, Lompoc 1923. Oil on canvas.
In honour of today's solar eclipse, the first of the century visible in this part of the world, I thought I would look at some of the artistic depictions of solar eclipses through time.

I'm a fan of the elegance and humour of astronomer Katie Mack's popular eclipse tweet:

As a science-artist, I often wonder how to portray astronomy, or earth and planetary science without reproducing actual diagrams, but some have done so in delightful and artistic ways. Artistic works incorporate both actual diagrams and abstractions, from Joseph Cornell's assemblages complete with scientific ephemera, through Roy Lichtenstein's stylized pop art with a true sense of movement of the celestial bodies, capturing the 4D event on the 2D plane. The always delightful Rachel Ignotofsky incorporates some diagrams in her retelling of the life and science of underappreciated Qing Dynasty astronomer and mathematician Wang Zhenyi (1768–1797) in her fabulous book Women in Science.

Joseph Cornell (1903 – 1972), Earth Eclipse
ca. 1960
Assemblage in box: wood, glass, steel, plaster, blue sand, and photograph
12.3 x 25.5 x 8 cm

Roy Lichtenstein, Eclipse of the Sun (1975)
Rachel Ignotofsky, spread on Wang Zhenyi and how she deduced the mechanism of solar eclipses, from Women in Science

Artists throughout time and across cultures have used the image of solar eclipses to bring a hint of the eerie or supernatural to their works and eclipses are not uncommon in religious art.

Raphael (and his workshop), 1483-1520, Isaac and Rebecca Spied on by Abimelech

Yoshitoshi Taiso (1839-1892), Mount Yoshino Midnight-Moon: Iga no Tsunone, from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (1885-1892), ukiyo-e woodblook print on paper
Egon Schiele, (1890-1928) Crucifixion with Darkened Sun, 1907, oil on canvas
Some more contemporary works are more evocative than direct illustions.

Diego Rivera (1886 – 1957), Portrait of Ramón Gómez de la Serna, 1915, makes reference to the poet's own mentions of eclipses and hints at the artist's own love of eclipses

Rosemarie Fiore's "Smoke Eclipse #52," 2015. Firework smoke residue on Sunray paper.

Russell Crotty's "Blue Totality," 2017. Ink and watercolor, fiberglass, plastic and tinted bio-resin on paper, 48 inches by 48 inches by 1 inch
Many of these works benefited from the artists' own observations of actual eclipses and art historians can often tie works to recent eclipses in a given region. There are also wonderful images created as science communication, to literally depict events for research or teaching purposes. Princeton University has a wonderful exhibit website for the scientific illustration eclipse paintings of Howard Russell Butler (1856–1934). The site brought my attention to many of the works here and you should view and read more context there.

Adolf Fassbender (1884-1980), Sun's Total Eclipse, 1925, Gelatin silver print
William Langenheim (1807–1874)Eclipse of the Sun, 1854. Daguerreotypes, from 1 1/4 x 1 in. (3.2 x 2.5 cm) to 2 13/16 x 2 5/16 in. (7.2 x 5.9 cm). First known photographs of a solar eclipse

Illustration from Der Mond, 1876 by James Nasmyth and James Carpenter

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