Hogarth’s Trip to the Moon

William Hogarth: Some of the Principal Inhabitants of the Moon

“Some of the Principal Inhabitants of the Moon as they Were Perfectly Discovered by a Telescope brought to ye Greateset Perfection Since ye last Eclipse Exactly Engraved from the Objects, whereby ye Curious may Guess at their Religion, Manners, &c.”

On a recent visit to London’s Hayward Gallery, I stopped off at the Project Space to take a look at the latest exhibition, Deceitful Moon, which celebrates not the anniversary of the Moon landings, but instead the history of hoaxes and conspiracy theories surrounding the Lunar mission. Amongst the exhibits is a William Hogarth engraving “Royalty, Episcopacy and Law”, purporting to show the inhabitants of the Moon as seen through a telescope. From the caption, we can note that Hogarth was capitalising on the frenzy surrounding a recent eclipse (the original was painted in 1724, and this engraving made later that century) which, in a neat science fictional flourish, he uses to explain the sudden clarity with which the moon’s surface can be scrutinised. Is it meant to be a disappointment that these aliens are just like us, with the same staid and affected institutions at their core? As Ronald Paulson points out in his book on Hogarth:

The satiric device of the telescope reveals what was not visible at the great distance that stretches between these regal figures and the public (whether on a Greenwich ceiling or in fact) – that they are only robes hung over armatures, the king’s head being no more than a guinea.

I was immediately reminded of Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage dans la Lune, about which I’ve been compiling some notes over the past few months:

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The throne room of the Moon king is similarly decked out in ceremonial pomp and, since the king can be easily bashed into a puff of smoke, perhaps there’s another satirical comment on the vapid nature of such institutions.

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