The fascination and at times obsession with the moon, the only natural satellite circling our planet Earth, is the theme of a new exhibition at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art that celebrates the 50th anniversary of man's first landing on the moon.
The moon landing by Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969, signified not only "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," as astronaut Neil Armstrong said upon setting foot on the surface of the moon. It also meant that a dream of centuries had at last come true.
The history of that dream is presented in the exhibition "Apollo's Muse: The Moon in the Age of Photography," which opens this Wednesday and which will allow visitors to view all summer long more than 170 photographs of the satellite, as well as paintings, prints, drawings, movies and astronomical instruments.
The exhibit kicks off with the book "Sidereus Nuncius" (Starry Messenger) by Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), which published, two centuries before photography was invented, the first drawings of the surface of the moon in extraordinary detail, directly from what the famous Italian astronomer observed through his telescope.
From then on the history of lunar images becomes affected by technological breakthroughs, whether in the form of daguerreotypes, prints, drawings or snapshots, all serving to bring mankind closer to the moon.
The same moon portrayed by artists like Claude Mellan in the 17th century, John Tussel in the 18th and Caspar Friedrich in the 19th is also what inspired motion-picture pioneers like the famed Georges Melies, who produced the 1902 short film "A Trip to the Moon."
That movie with the scene of a spacecraft like a cannon shell hitting the moon in its eye appears in the same gallery where the works of other artists show how they imagined life would be on its surface.
The Italian Filippo Morghen (1730-1807) visualized the moon as a place where is inhabitants, like Native Americans, wore feather headdresses and lived inside big pumpkins.
Later technological progress showed how unreal that flight of fancy was, above all during the space race that pitted the US and Soviet Union against each other halfway through the 20th century.
The exhibition dedicates one of its galleries to that confrontation and how US astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts tried to be first at something: in sending a rocket into space, in sending man into space, and finally, in setting foot on the surface of the moon.
This milestone was finally achieved by Armstrong, who appears immortalized in the Met exhibition thanks to the photos taken by his colleague on the mission, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, that show him walking on the moon.