Agostino Scilla Study Day

This study day took place on 2 December 2016 in the Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge

One of the tasks of the Making Visible project is to understand the historical practices and connections between seeing, drawing and knowing. This experimental study day was based on one work which attracted much attention among the Fellows of the early Royal Society; Agostino Scilla’s (1629-1700), Vain speculations undeceived by the sense (1670), which contained intaglio illustrations of Scilla’s own collection of fossils he had drawn. The project was very fortunate in being granted special access to Scilla’s original fossils and drawings and to copies of his book by the Sedgwick Museum for this study day.

Participants of the study day were asked not to read up on graphic techniques or on Scilla at all before the study day. The variable background, skills and knowledge of participants were also an important part of the experiment. They were first asked to draw one of Scilla’s fossil objects and then to answer a few questions about their thoughts and experience of looking at an object and drawing it. Following on from the that, scientific curators discussed the significance of the objects, and an art instructor demonstrated techniques of drawing. After that, the participants were asked to draw the object again and to answer further questions about how they thought their drawing had changed after receiving knowledge and instruction.

After the experiment, the group looked at the same objects alongside Scilla’s drawings and the printed images in his book; and the participants were asked whether or how their earlier experience in drawing has helped gain understanding of Scilla’s images.

We would like to thank the following for their help in realising this workshop: Dan Pemberton (Collections Manager, Sedgwick Museum), Sarah Finney (Conservator, Sedwick Museum), Douglas Palmer (Sedgwick Museum Information Developer), John Douglas Piper (artist and printmaker).

Images of Scilla’s original drawings were obtained from the English language ebook Vain Speculation Undeceived by Sense, with kind permission from the Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge.

Drawing Experiment Galleries

In each of these galleries you can observe the difference between drawing 1 (before instruction) and drawing 2 (after instruction).


Jawbone with Teeth



Petrified Canicola Tooth



Petrified Echino



Petrified Echino II



Broken and Petrified Vacca Tooth



Petrified Istrice di Mare


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