Lunar mystique: How the moon has inspired art and culture

The mythological moon

Fly me to the moon

On July 27, 2018 a rare dual celestial phenomenon occurred: a relatively long lunar eclipse or "blood moon" due to the moon's change in color while shadowed by earth, and the nearest approach of planet Mars in 15 years. The very rare cosmic coincidence had sky gazers out in force. Since the beginning of time, however, the moon has been revered for its magic, mystery and cultural significance.

The mythological moon

Religious symbolism and astrology

People have worshipped the moon since the beginning of time, structuring their lives around its patterns and revering its perceived forces. Sometimes time was counted in moons rather than days or months. The bronze Nebra sky disc, found in Saxony-Anhalt in 1999, represents the duality of early astronomy and spirituality. The disc is estimated to be 3700-4100 years old.

The mythological moon

The meaning of…

In the visual arts, the moon has been used to symbolize a variety of themes: innocence, the Virgin Mary, female sexuality. However, the overwhelming association has always been one of romance. Artists frequently looked to the moon for its magic, as displayed here in Caspar David Friedrich's "Two Men Contemplating the Moon" from 1820.

The mythological moon

Immortal muse of the poets

The moon has played a pivotal role in literature since time immemorial. In poetry, it's often used to express melancholy and longing — or often solace, as in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's poem "To the Moon." The opening verse of the poem reads: "Bush and vale thou fill'st again / With thy misty ray / And my spirit's heavy chain / Castest far away."

The mythological moon

Howl at the moon

The moon may inspire owls and wolves to sing, but humans have also made a habit of howling at it. Famous examples include Matthias Claudius' beloved German lullaby "Gently the Moon has Risen," Elvis Presley's version of Rodgers and Hart's "Blue Moon" and Pink Floyd's seminal 1973 album "The Dark Side of the Moon."

The mythological moon

Horror and romance

Mark Twain once said "Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody." Since ancient times, legends have abounded about people who turn into wolves at the full moon. The werewolf has been a perennial cinema favorite — as in "The Wolf Man" of 1941, pictured. But the moon has played a role in every genre, including romantic comedies like the 1987 romcom "Moonstruck."

The mythological moon

Blockbuster of the century

With the historic moon landing in 1969, the moon could well have lost its remaining secrets — and luster. Suddenly people were there, exploring its mysteries first-hand — and even taking photographs. Science, it seemed, had finally conquered the Earth's mysterious satellite.

The mythological moon

Eternal mystery

But the magic of the moon wasn't destroyed by its human conquest. Indeed, it still continues to inspire, and in 2013 Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and his Danish collaborator Ólafur Elíasson launched their "Moon" project. At www.moonmoonmoonmoon.com people can immortalize their own drawings of the moon. "Leave your fingerprint and see the shared moon grow as others reach out too," implores the website.

The convergence of a 'blood moon' and an unusually bright red planet Mars in the night sky promises to be a celestial extravaganza for sky watchers. Such cosmic events have been celebrated by artists for millennia.

On Friday night, sky gazers the world over will be looking out for a very special lunar eclipse, or 'blood moon' — the longest this century — as a glowing planet Mars simultaneously comes closest to the earth for 15 years.

As the earth casts its shadow over the moon — and refracted sunlight passes through the earth's atmosphere to give the celestial body a rich reddish hue — Mars will shine brighter than Jupiter as it comes to within a mere 60 million kilometers of earth.   

Read more: Longest 'blood moon' of century coincides with chance to see Mars at nearest

But the moon itself has always been a magnet for people, and for artists who from the Saxons to Ai Weiwei have tried to articulate its mysterious, seductive power.

Science | 05.02.2018

Click through the picture gallery above to explore some of the great lunar-inspired art and culture across the ages. 

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Science | 26.07.2018

The longest lunar eclipse of the century

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