Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Cultural Representations of Living Nature: Dynamics of Intermedial Recording in Text and Image (ca. 1550-1670)

This project investigates the transposition of natural historical material, knowledge and vision, between different media (collection, scientific drawing, academic texts, the visual arts and/or literature) – a transmission that happens in the borderline between the traditional, emblematic worldview and a more scientific one in early modern Europe.

2011 - 2015
Paul Smith
NWO-Cultural Dynamics NWO-Cultural Dynamics

Natural History in Europe changed in a fundamental way after 1550. Knowledge of nature grew exponentially thanks to new discovered species, and new research methods and models of description. The micro-world of insects and other small creatures became a new focus of attention, moreover, partly on account of the invention of the microscope c. 1610 in Italy and the Netherlands. This increase of knowledge caused frictions between the traditional, emblematic worldview and a more scientific one. Signs of these frictions can be discerned in the visual arts and literature.

How did early modern science document the living micro-world and macro-world? How was this scientific documentation transposed to the visual arts and literature? And how did it change medium, for instance from collection (herbarium, collection of curiosities, botanical garden, menagerie) to scientific drawing, printed scientific publication, painting or literature?

Three projects investigate these questions for the period 1550-1670, and share the perspective of intermediality:
1. the interest in the micro-world before and shortly after the invention of the microscope in Italy and the Netherlands (c. 1550-1670);
2. the role of natural history (both the micro- and the macro-world) in paintings by Joris Hoefnagel (1542-c.1600), Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625) and Jan van Kessel (1626-1679).
3. the friction between animal symbolism and zoology in the pictorial and literary representation of the Fall from Dürer to Rembrandt and Vondel.

The relatively long time-span (c. 1550-1670) allows the investigation of the changing frictions between the emblematic and the scientific worldview in a historical perspective.

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