Eclipse Paintings & More
For eons, a solar eclipse was a rare phenomenon and many people rarely saw more than one in their entire lives. It was a mysterious, unexpected, and often frightening event that provoked dread, wonder, and fear. People worried it represented the anger of the gods, was an omen for the end of the world, or was a harbinger of bad times ahead. An eclipse inspired many myths and traditions, becoming a symbol and metaphor in art that goes back centuries.
Even after scientists explored and explained the eclipse, it maintained its status as a unique and enigmatic sign from the universe. Its hold on the human psyche has been explored by artists all around the world through paintings, sculptures, carvings, sketches, photographs, and many other mediums. From mythical creatures swallowing the sun in ancient China to an eclipse in the backdrop of the crucifixion in European art, this solar phenomena has captured the imagination of millions.
Explore this blog to discover some of the most fantastic eclipses in art and learn more about the symbolism behind each artist’s manifestation of this natural event.
1. Eclipses in Asian Art
China, Korea, and Japan have all experienced enough eclipses to develop a mythology related to the disappearance of the sun from the sky. In ancient Asia, people believed that what happened in the sky was a direct mirror of events from Earth. A solar eclipse was generally feared because they believed that a giant mythical dragon was attempting to devour the sun. Sometimes, this creature took on the shape of a wild cat or a celestial dog.
One of the earliest records of a solar eclipse dates back to A.D. 628 in Japan, where the people performed ceremonies to save the moon or sun from being consumed. Oftentimes, an eclipse was also associated with spectral apparitions and ghosts. Some of the eclipse art from this time included Sun & Moon Funerary Vases, illustrations of the phenomena in books, and woodblock paintings depicting heroes confronting evil in the darkness of a solar eclipse.
2. Rahula | Tibet, 15th Century
As we move to adjacent Asian countries some time in the future, we find another kind of association with eclipses. In Tibet, Rahula became a popular protector related to every type of eclipse. This demigod of the cosmos was a common part of many altars with statuettes depicting his lower body as a coiled serpent connected to a human upper body with nine heads, four arms, and thousands of eyes. Each of the heads was meant to represent a planet in eclipse. He is still a prevalent figure in Buddhist culture and the center of tons of eclipse art.
3. Nancy Graves | Eclipse
Nancy Graves is a more modern artist that explored the abstractions of celestial phenomena with scientific imagery of the natural world and scientific discoveries. Inspired by the lunar missions of the early 1970s, she translated NASA’s lunar maps into abstract visual paintings. These paintings eventually became the basis for her sculpture: Eclipse. The sculpture is eclipse art made of cast iron that blends conceptual and tangible ideas into one piece with representations of a crescent moon, an eclipse, a windmill, and the planets in our sky.
4. Paintings by Howard Russell Butler
Before photography had evolved enough to capture the full majesty of a solar eclipse, Butler’s eclipse paintings were the closest you could get to an accurate depiction. They provided astronomers and the public with the best record of a solar eclipse. Because this solar phenomena lasts just a few minutes, Butler must have been one of the first eclipse chasers. He studied many eclipses in order to take enough notes during the brief totality so that he could translate them into stunningly precise eclipse paintings. His renderings were even more exact due to the aid of negatives and photographic prints.
5. Egon Schiele | Crucifixion with Darkened Sun
Another painter with a fascination for eclipses, Egon Schiele integrated the darkening sun into many of his religious paintings in the early 1900s. His eclipse art juxtaposed the dark sun in the sky with the halo of a crucified Jesus as an exploration of the martyr’s death and its significance for the entire world. Schiele was not as concerned with the accuracy of the eclipse in his art, rather the emotion and symbolism it evoked in the viewer.