studies in the history of science and culture
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© August 2005
revised 26 June 2008

Baroque-era printer's ornament

on “The Cosmographical Glasse”

This exhibit elaborates on a brief statement made in the GALLERY exhibit, Portraits of Melancholy — I

A spiritual conception of the eye as a “window of the soul” was central to optical arts & sciences throughout the early modern period. Mirrors, lenses, and eyes — whether animal or cameral — were typically thought of as cosmographical glasses — a sort of cosmic conduit for communicative interchanges of universal powers or energies (in this case, light). Within this greater framework, human vision was understood as a both/and (mind and body, culture and nature) process. Scientists such as Hooke never studied the eye in isolation from what another Royal Society Fellow, Hooke’s friend John Aubrey, called “hyper-physical optics ... drawn from the heavens.”

taking the emblematic frontispiece to William Cuningham’s The Cosmographical Glasse (1559) as its starting point, and the emblematic frontispiece to Athanasius Kircher’s Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae (1646) as the metaphor’s quintessential expression.

TOPICS:  the debate over scientific realism (theory & practice, representation & intervention); 17th-century theories of vision, representation, and even mirroring as communicative acts, not simply passive spectatorship; interweaving the philosopher’s gaze (“the external perspective of the observer”) with a participant’s gaze

Baroque-era printer's ornament

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