Meeting 1 (September 2011)

The Origins of Science as a Visual Pursuit: The Case of the Early Royal Society

This meeting took place on 9 September 2011, under the auspices of the Huntington Library and the Early Modern Studies Institute, University of Southern California.

The organizers, Sachiko Kusukawa (Cambridge), Alexander Marr (University of Southern California), are grateful for the generous support received, and wish to thank particularly Amy Brady for seamlessly organizing the logistics (and participants) of the meeting.

The first session was chaired by Mordechai Feingold (CalTech)

Sachiko Kusukawa (Cambridge) in ‘The Pictorial Practices of the Early Royal Society’, set out questions for studying the role of images in the early Royal Society. In particular, she suggested the need to understand more properly the editorial practices (both textual and pictorial) of Philosphical Transactions, the uses of drawings in meetings, and the importance of portraits and furnishing of the meeting room of the Royal Society. She also suggested the possible importance of the manuscript circulation of Edward Norgate’s ‘Art of Limning’ among Fellows of the Royal Society as a means to train the eye and hand through prints. Points raised included: national, social and political contexts might affect the typology of images; the place of the Norgate mss in the context of numerous other drawing manuals available at the time; the significance of the inclusion of portraits of non-Fellows (e.g. Hobbes).

Meghan Doherty (Berea College Art Galleries; PhD dissertation (Wisconsin, Madison) ‘Carving Knowledge: Printed Images, Accuracy, and the Early Royal Society of London’) in ‘William Faithorne, “The Best in the World in this Kind”’, contrasted Faithorne’s portraits with his work for scientific books, which appear to be less worked on and simplified than the portraits. Nevertheless, Doherty’s point was that there was no neat divide between ‘scientific’ and ‘artistic’ genres of engravings.  The language (e.g. experimental literature) used to express different types of labour, evolution  of style within Faithorne, and the role of Faithorne within English disegno traditions were noted as further contexts in which to situate his work.

The second session was chaired by Daniela Bleichmar (University of Southern California)

Craig Ashley Hanson (Calvin College, author of The English Virtuoso: Art, Medicine, and Antiquarianism in the Age of Empiricism, Chicago, 2009), ‘Illustrating Newtonian Physiology: Situating the Myotomia Reformata within the Royal Society’, traced how William Cowper’s Myotoma Reformata (1694) was transformed by Richard Mead in its second edition, with a preface by Henry Pemberton, which set forth a Newtonian physiology and contained hybrid illustrations of diagrammatic and pictorial figures; he underlined the fluid relationship between scientific texts and images, adaptable and flexible in different contexts. Points noted were: similarity with Borelli’s images and some of Coiter’s figures; the relevance of Dutch publications (e.g. Albinus’ edition of Vesalius); the role of Mead as arbiter of aesthetic taste.

Matthew Hunter (McGill, completing a monograph entitled: Wicked intelligence: visual art and the science of experiment in Restoration London), ‘Allurements: Calculating the Attraction of Pictures, Drawings, Objects, Models and other (or, more expressly to the point) Schemes in the Early Royal Society’ pursued the idea of Robert Hooke’s cut-paper object as a ‘clever object’, an ingenious material solution to a philosophical problem; such objects have a weaker force than art objects in stupefying and posing danger to unwitting observers.

The last session was a round-table discussion chaired by Alexander Marr, who reminded the audience of the research questions posed.  Points raised during the discussion were: the importance of the Reformation and its anxiety with images (e.g. Stuart Clark, Vanity of the Eyes), the danger of teleological treatment of seventeenth-century issues with an eye to explaining the emergence of ‘visual regimes’ (as developed in Daston and Galison, Objectivity), the need to pay attention to the heterogeneity of pictorial strategies and practices, and to the multiple epistemic standards at work, the examination of the relationship of art and science in the period in general (e.g. whether FRS’s were offering gainful employment as well as networks of possible patrons to artists for whom institutional support was lacking in England until the eighteenth century), how and why the focus on the Royal Society or the seventeenth century might be significant for the history of visuality; what a ‘collective’ visual practice might have amounted to.

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