The moon, viewed in oblique sunlight. Stipple engraving, 1806, by J. Russell.

  • Russell, John, 1745-1806.
26 November 1806
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About this work


This is one of two large and detailed engravings of the moon made by John Russell in 1805 from his own drawings. He was not a professional man of science: he was an artist, specializing in pastel drawings but also painting in oils. He painted mainly portraits and sentimental subjects such as children and pets, and had among his clients members of the royal family and several scientists. He was bowled over one night by the beauty of the moon as seen through a telescope in a garden in Newman Street (off Oxford Street, in London). Thereafter he devoted much of his time to studying the moon and drawing its physical landscape in ever greater detail, in an attempt to improve and correct the existing maps. His notebooks on the moon, a large pastel of the moon, and a moon globe by Russell are preserved in the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford. The two engravings, completed shortly before his death, form as far as possible his definitive findings. Russell was something of a religious fanatic and a strict observer of the Sabbath. He was a follower of John Hutchinson (1664-1737), a natural philosopher who advocated the understanding of the physical world on biblical principles. He is one of many who have been inspired by their religion to study the physical world as a tribute to its Creator


London (Charing Cross) : Wm Faden, 26 November 1806.

Physical description

1 print : engraving ; image 42 x 42 cm platemark 68.5 x 48.3 cm


Plate the 2nd. exhibiting the same view of the Moon's surface as plate the first. Lettering continues: The first plate presents the moon with the rays of the sun falling perpendicularly upon it, and is therefore a real representation of the full moon in a state of mean libration. This second plate represents the same view of the moon as to libration, but with the rays of the sun falling obliquely upon it. This view therefore though true of every part of the moon as such part successively approaches to the edge of illumination, is at no time, and from the spherical figure of the moon cannot be true of the whole moon at once. From this simple variation in the illumination of the moon, the lunar surface appartently undergoes an almost total change: the elevated spots from the obliquety of the sun's rays project broad shadows, and their forms in consequence become clearly defined. Many spots not to be discerned in the full moon, appear, whilst others entirely disappear, the remarkable luminous points and rays so numerous in the full moon under this oblique illumination are not visible. Much important investigation independant of the utility of the plates during lunar eclipses, will arise from a careful comparison of the lunar planispheres. The lettering is repeated in French


"The making of this plate occupied Russell for twenty years" DNB
Dedicated to William Herschel by William Russell


Wellcome Collection 498163i



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