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James Nasmyth and James Carpenter, Der Mond (Leipzig, 1876)

The Moon, Considered as a Planet, a World and a Satellite

These are not photographs of the Moon!  No Earth-bound telescopes could discern such detail in the 19th century.

Nasmyth was a Scottish engineer known for his invention of the steam hammer.  He combined avid interests in astronomy and photography. Carpenter was an astronomer at the Greenwich Observatory. Together they constructed plaster models of the lunar surface. They photographed these plaster models using raking light (where light rays come from oblique angles).  With raking light, they were able to simulate the shadow effects one might perceive on the surface of the Moon through the telescope.

In 1610, Galileo discovered mountains on the Moon with the benefit not only of the telescope’s optics but also of the ability to interpret what he perceived in light of an artistic tradition of chiaroscuro, the handling of light and shadow. With the perspective exercises of Pacioli, Leonardo or Sirigatti, students learned to draw the shadows cast by the protruding surfaces of complex geometrical figures. On the Moon, the shadows Galileo observed revealed topographical relief. The photographic laboratory of Nasmyth and Carpenter returns us full circle by recreating these light and shadow effects in detail. In controlled conditions, Nasmyth and Carpenter recreated the same effects which Galileo had originally taught us to understand. With this British achievement in simulated astrophotography, we see that a productive combination of art and astronomy did not end with Galileo.

This work first appeared in English. Both Nasmyth and Carpenter are now recognized with craters on the Moon.

Galileo's World Exhibition Location

Source: History of Science Collections

Section: The Moon and the Telescope

Section Number: 1

Object Number: 7

Subject Area(s): Astronomy, Art, Scientific Instruments

Time Period: 19th Century

Region(s): Europe, Germany

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Exhibit Gallery OERs

Art and Astronomy Walking Tour

Art and Astronomy Walking Tour

“What was it like when art and astronomy were intertwined?”

Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Lorenzo Sirigatti, Galileo... what joins them together?  Why is Galileo's Starry Messenger (1610) displayed alongside Giorgio Vasari's Lives of Eminent Painters and Sculptors

Galileo’s scientific discoveries occurred in the context of a specific artistic culture which possessed sophisticated mathematical techniques for drawing with linear perspective and handling light and shadow.

Do you know someone who received a telescope for Christmas? There's no better way to begin looking through a telescope than to ponder the way Galileo's professional training as an artist prepared him to make his astronomical discoveries.

In the Galileo’s World exhibition, four galleries took their point of departure from Galileo’s Starry Messenger (Sidereus nuncius, 1610):  
• Galileo and Perspective Drawing  
• Galileo and the Telescope   
• The Moon and the Telescope   
• The Sky at Night

These distinct but overlapping galleries were on physical display in different places and combinations during the course of the Galileo’s World exhibition, most notably at the National Weather Center and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.  Various books from these galleries are part of the current Rotating Display and the "The Sky Tonight reprise" gallery, including Galileo’s Starry Messenger itself.

Use this handout to aid you in you as you walk through the 2017 Rotating Display and The Sky at Night reprise gallery.