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Morghen, Filippo

Entry updated 3 April 2023. Tagged: Artist.

(1739-1807 or after) Italian printmaker and engraver, born in Florence but working in Naples from circa 1760. Much of his work comprised engravings of the antiquities of Italy, such as the ruined cities of Paestum and Herculaneum, showing their architecture, frescoes, statues and other art.

However, Morghen also produced Raccolta delle cose più notabili veduta dal cavaliere Wilde Scull, e dal Sigr: de la Hire nel lor famoso viaggio dalla Terra alla Luna ["Collection of the most notable things seen by the knight Wilde Scull, and Mr. de la Hire in their famous journey from the Earth to the Moon"] (graph circa 1766-1767, but see below). The identity of Wilde Scull, if he ever existed, is unknown, but "de la Hire" refers to Philippe de La Hire (1640-1718), the French astronomer, artist, mathematician and architect; he never professed to have visited the Moon, though a mountain there, Mons La Hire, is now named after him.

The publication comprises ten engravings, purporting to illustrate what Scull and de La Hire saw during their visit. The first (the only one with text) sets up the premise and lists the other scenes; it shows the visitors having just returned from (or arrived on) the Moon in a wooden box with fan-like wings (see Fantastic Voyages; Space Flight). The remaining nine show the lives of the indigenous Aliens, who look not dissimilar to contemporary depictions of native Americans: one hunts astride a bridled butterfly-winged serpent; another manipulates a large bladed mechanism (see Technology), awaiting his prey to take the bait, to split it from head to tail. The inhabitants live either in normal-looking cottages (though one is perched in a tree), in riverboats or in house-sized pumpkins – some of which are still growing on trees, others on the ground or on the water. We see the local means of Transportation: on land, a coach with sails; on water, sail boats powered by giant bellows, except for one powered by the wings of the enormous bird chained to it (and rewarded with a share of the fishermen's catch, which looks to be giant snails).

Morghen produced at least two further editions of the engravings, retitling them Raccola delle cose piu notabili vedute da Giovanni Wilkins erudite Vescovo Inglese nel suo famoso viaggio dalla Terra alla Luna, con i disegni di animali, e machine a noi incognite e dal medisimo descritte nella sua celebre Istoria ["Collection of the most notable things seen by John Wilkins erudite English Bishop in his famous journey from the Earth to the Moon, with drawings of animals, and machines unknown to us and from the explorer [?] described in his famous History"] (graph circa 1767-1768). John Wilkins, one of the founders of the Royal Society, was the author of Discovery of a New World; Or, a Discourse Tending to Prove, That 'tis Probable There May Be Another Habitable World in the Moone (1638) – doubtless the reason for Morghen's attribution. The actual dates of these publications are not known with any certainty; some sources give the first as 1764-1772 or 1776, so the date of the second printing might be later than suggested. The third edition was probably published after Jean Blanchard's Balloon crossing of the English channel in 1785, as the first engraving now shows a balloon attached to the travellers' box.

Considered as Proto SF, the illustrations are charming though perhaps not as unearthly as one might wish: the Moon's flora and fauna (see Life on Other Worlds) range from the moderately exotic to geese. A new edition, titled Life on the Moon in 1768: Ten Fantasy Engravings of the 18th Century (graph 1991) has an introduction by Brian Aldiss, who describes it as a "small masterpiece". [SP]

Filippo Morghen

born Florence: 1739

died 1807 or after

works (selected)


previous versions of this entry

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