Recipes in the archives of the early Royal Society

[This blog post is a slightly adapted version of a blog posted at the Recipe Project]

By Sietske Fransen

‘What is a recipe?’ was the simple opening question asked by the organizers of the virtual conversation hosted by the Recipe Project. This month-long online discussion has made me look for different things in the archives of the Royal Society.

During my weekly visits to the Royal Society Archives in London I am usually searching for anything visual from the period 1660-1710. Once found, the particular page of archival material with something visual on it is added to the Making Visible database.  However, while my colleagues and I are looking for images, we also come across many other interesting documents that are currently part of the early archives. Like recipes!

Those of you who have followed the twitter storm during the #recipesconf might have seen that I have tweeted about recipes in the last few weeks. Recipes for the making of pigments and varnish; food recipes (for bread, butter, and bacon); and medical recipes. The discussions on twitter made me come up with several questions. And even though there are too many questions to answer in one blog post, I will try and discuss them briefly, and hope to continue this wonderful conversation with so many colleagues around the globe.

A receipt to cure mad dogs and men. Cl.P/14i/33. Image @ Royal Society

First of all, why did all these recipes make their way into the archives of the Royal Society? When I started working on the Royal Society materials two years ago, I did not expect to find so many recipes for making food and drinks, nor was I expecting the Fellows’ interest in the making of pigments and varnishes. However, it turns out that the Fellows of the Royal Society were very interested in the history of trades, which made them collect recipes from artisans, including many recipes and treatises on things related the making of images, book printing, and engraving techniques.[1] The food recipes might need to be seen from the perspective of making products in the house, with which men and women can show off their skills to their friends. During my tweeting storm I showed a set of recipes brought to the Royal Society by John Evelyn about how to make the best French bread. But also bacon, butter, cheese, and cider recipes are part of the collections in the archives.


In the case of the bread recipe we have the name of John Evelyn stuck to it. And it is indeed interesting to know who provided the Fellows of the Royal Society with the information now in the archives. Who were the sources for the recipes? Were they named? Relatively often we find a name on the recipe. Many of the recipes related to the art of picture making have male names on the recipes, such as Jonathan Goddard in the recipes for colours. Amongst the recipes I found several that had a female name on them, such as the butter recipe from Mrs Elizabeth Papworth, and the recipe for a remedy for scurvy by Mrs Bancroft. Is this surprising? Not at all, as regular readers of the Recipe blog know very well, recipes were very often collected by women in early modern English households. However, from the perspective of the early history of the Royal Society, it is definitely interesting how recipes from women are still part of the archives. Much more research needs to be done on the women around the Royal Society.

A receipt to cure mad dogs and men. RBO/7/8. Image @ Royal Society

There was an interesting discussion about whether or not the description of a tool needed for the performance of the recipe (such as an oven for bread baking) should be treated as a recipe? Or is it even an ingredient? The description of the oven in John Evelyn’s bread recipe almost looked like a recipe inside a recipe, as it was so clearly describing the various things needed to make the oven and made sure it would actually work correctly. And a good working oven was a prerequisite for making the best bread in itself. Also here I am looking forward to a continuing discussion about tools in recipes!

Finally, I would like to quickly answer a question Elaine Leong raised about the many underlinings and crossing-out in a recipe for curing rabies. As I suspected the crossings were done in the original document that was brought in to the Royal Society. The recipe was thought important enough to make it into the Royal Society’s Register Book, where we find it again in volume 7. All the crossed out sections that you can see in the image to the above, are omitted from the neat version of the recipe in the Register book. Also the information about the effective curing of the His Majesties’ dogs is left out. But instead we do find a short Note Bene, explaining that the plant named in the recipe as “Starr of the Earth”, has several Latin and vernacular namens “known among Botanists”, which will make it easier to find this ingredient.


Thanks to the organisers of the #recipesconf for giving me a great excuse to look at some recipes in the Royal Society Archives and for all the stimulating conversations online!

[1] See for the history of trades and especially the Royal Society’s interest in the making of images Matthew C. Hunter, Wicked Intelligene (Chicago, 2013), esp. chapter 1.

A Demonstration by Scribe Paul Antonio

On the 16 of November 2016, the Genius Before Romanticism project, and our own Making Visible team joined forces in organising a day-long workshop around “Scribal Ingenuity“. Since the art of writing was such an important part of early modern culture, and it involves skill, and expertise, our workshop was divided between a theoretical and a practical part. The morning consisted of papers about early modern scribes and their ingenious and beautiful ways of writing, as well as the way in which writing was used to organise knowledge, and to engage with information. In the afternoon we visited the Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge, looking especially at Pepys’s collections of samples of hand-writings and pen-drawings. And in between papers and library visit we had the pleasure of welcoming professional scribe Paul Antonio, who gave a demonstration of the art of scribal practices. You can watch the full demonstration on our event page, and below I will highlight several moments from the study session.

Let’s start with learning how to cut a quill. Always thought that part of scribal practice was straightforward…? 

Paul showed us how logical early modern letter forms are. Once you understand the maths, you might be able to try it yourself. To make it easier for his audience to see what he is doing, Paul showed us the formation of letters on a big piece of paper attached to the wall. And to demonstrate the effect of a pointed flexible nib, the nib commonly found on quills and modern-day fountain pens, Paul used a device invented by Bill Hildebrandt, which imitates this pointed flexible nib. 

In preparation to of the study session, Paul was asked by the organisers how a book like Richard Gething’s Calligraphotechnica (London 1619)  was produced. Richard Gething (1585?–1652?) was a writing-master from Herefordshire, who lived in London most of his adult live. His Calligraphotechnia, a copybook with examples of handwritings and letter flourishes, was first published in 1616 as A Coppie Book of the Usuall Hands Written.  The first thing we have to realise with looking at the published versions of this writing manuals, is that they were printed from engravings, and therefore the handwriting had been cut into copperplates. In the case of Gething, we do not know who was the engraver, who had prepared the publication by transmitting a written manuscript onto copper plates. You can leave through the full book here. In the full version of the video you can hear how Paul explains the clear remnant of the use of a quill in the printed version (see the video at 1:06:48).

Subsequently Paul demonstrated how a letterform could have been made by Richard Gething taking the following image as his model.

A sample page from Richard Gething, Galligraphotechnia (London 1642).

Paul Antonio will be travelling to Texas, USA in May, to give several workshops and demonstrations. If you happen to be in that part of the world, don’t hesitate to sign up for some of his workshops here

And again, for the full recording of the 80 minute demonstration, see our event page, or click here

Fish Stories: Enlightened Fish Books

By Didi van Trijp

Fig. 1: Paper cut-out of herring caught in 1663, Royal Society, Classified Papers 13/1 @ Royal Society
Fig. 1: Paper cut-out of herring caught in 1663, Royal Society, Classified Papers 13/1 @ Royal Society

As the saying goes, fishermen are prone to tell ‘fish stories’; exaggerations of the size of the fish which they nearly caught but that only just got away. The paper cut-out of this herring (Figure 1) belies that idea: it is the paper proof of an exceptionally large herring specimen which was caught off the coast of Turso, Scotland in May 1663. This tracing was communicated to the Royal Society by Robert Moray FRS, who handled Scottish affairs for the Crown at the time and thus visited Scotland frequently. The accompanying letter does not say much with regard to this particular image, except that the fish totaled 19½ inches in length, and in width (without the fins) 5 inches. Such mathematical precision, according to Matthew Hunter, was much needed to get some grip on “those slippery denizens of the inky depths”.

In this blog post I explore how this cut-out herring may have contributed to the study of the watery part of creation in late seventeenth-century England. The existence of this piece of paper in the archives of the Royal Society offers, to me, a compelling case. From a fisherman’s net, this specimen was traced on paper, before finding its way into the room where fellows of the Royal Society convened in London on July 1, 1663 and discussed the case, as Thomas Birch described. The exact trajectory remains somewhat unclear; which intermediaries (other than Moray) made it possible for this fish’s contours to end up in the archives of the Royal Society? Why did the actors engaged in this circulation consider it pertinent to formalize the size of the fish on paper – was it bragging, a sense of wonder, or a way to advance natural knowledge, or all three?

The Fellows of the Royal Society were certainly interested in fish, as their extensive financial support for publishing the Historia piscium (Oxford, 1686) demonstrates. This groundbreaking book was written by the Cambridge naturalists Francis Willughby (1635–1672, FRS 1663) and John Ray (1627–1705, FRS 1667), and constituted a novel approach to the study of fish. Sachiko Kusukawa has shown that this approach entailed a focus on the description of external features of fish, rather than the compilation of a pandect that included mythical and fantastic descriptions, as sixteenth-century authors were prone to do. The case of the Scottish herring would have been quite interesting for Conrad Gesner, for example, who in his volume on fishes only mentioned the size of a fish when he could report a spectacular sighting.

Fig. 2: Depiction of the herring in Francis Willughby and John Ray, Historia piscium (Oxford, 1686). Courtesy of Special Collections at Leiden University Library [667 A 17]
Fig. 2: Depiction of the herring in Francis Willughby and John Ray, Historia piscium (Oxford, 1686). Courtesy of Special Collections at Leiden University Library [667 A 17]

Despite being safely stored in the Royal Society’s archive, the impressive Scottish herring did not make an appearance in the Historia piscium. In their description of the harengus species, Willughby and Ray merely state that the size of this very well-known fish is 9 to 12 inches in length, and 2 or 3 inches in width. They do not explicitly state on which particular specimen they have based their indications, but by using the adjective ‘very well-known’, or ‘notissimus’, the authors seem to appeal to previous observations of the reader. Furthermore, they give intricate descriptions of the fish’s inner parts, whereas the visual depiction of the herring renders the fish’s external parts in detail (Figure 2). Both inside and out, fishes’ features offered veritable clues to their place in the large, ordered system that God had created; Ray dubbed these ‘characteristic marks’. Such a mark could be the body shape of a fish of its fins. As a result of this quest for characteristic marks, Ray discarded those cases that did not exemplify average specimens and were ‘monstrous’ varieties.

Even though they often drew on earlier authors, Willughby and Ray attached great value to seeing things with their own eyes, too. During their ‘field trip’ through Europe from 1662 to 1666, they visited fisheries and fish markets to observe specimens, as Sachiko Kusukawa relates. In the Historia piscium, their own observations are marked with a ‘vidi’, ‘vidimus’, meaning ‘I have seen’ or ‘we have seen’. Altogether, the book is an amalgam of existing descriptions that are corrected according to freshly made observations. Specimens that seemed abnormal, however – even when subjected to mathematical precision – were not included. Nonetheless, the paper cut-out attests that those geared to gather and record knowledge of the underwater world formed a varied crowd. Thus, it offers insight into the people and practices involved in the process of knowledge production, but also allows us to reflect on what kind of knowledge was deemed pertinent to whom and why.


Further reading

For an interesting insight into the topics discussed at the meetings of the Royal Society, see Thomas Birch, The History of the Royal Society of London (London, 1756).

The epitomic fish book that this blog post discusses is that by Francis Willughby and John Ray, Historia Piscium (Oxford, 1686).

The Historia piscium has been extensively researched by Sachiko Kusukawa, most recently in ‘Historia Piscium (1686) and its Sources’ in: Tim Birkhead (ed.) Virtuoso by Nature: The Scientific Worlds of Francis Willughby FRS (1635-1672) (Leiden, 2016). Earlier work was done for her article ‘The Historia Piscium, (1686)’ in: Notes and Records of the Royal Society 54 (2000). DOI: 10.1098/rsnr.2000.0106

To learn more about how early modern people worked with, on, and against paper, see Matthew C. Hunter, Wicked Intelligence: Visual Art and the Science of Experiment in Restoration London (University of Chicago Press, 2013).

Johannes Swammerdam’s Scientific Images (I)

By Eric Jorink

Fig. 1: Drawing by Johannes Swammerdam, Royal Society Archives LBO/6/58 © Royal Society

On 4 March 1673, Johannes Swammerdam sent a letter to Henry Oldenburg, including these images (fig. 1). Only an abstract of the letter appeared in the Philosophical Transactions (19 May 1673, page 6041), without including what was basically the point of the message: a visual report of observations of the pulmonary arteries of a frog, and of the genital system of the horn-noosed beetle. As a biographer of Swammerdam, I find these images fascinating, both for their intrinsic quality, as for the fact that they are a nice point of departure for some thoughts on the role of the visual in early modern scientific culture.

Like Robert Hooke, Swammerdam was a skilled draftsman. During his years as a student in Leiden (1661-1667) he did pioneering research on insects, toads and other forms of low life. Swammerdam maintained that all creatures, great and small, obeyed the same laws of nature. He rejected the theory of spontaneous generation, according to which insects were devoid of an internal anatomy and had their origin in decaying flesh or plants.

Fig 2: The water gnat, as depicted by Robert Hooke in Micrographia (1665). © Royal Society
Fig 2: The water-gnat, as depicted by Robert Hooke in Micrographia (1665). © Royal Society
Fig. 3: the water gnat, as depicted by Robert Hooke in Micrographia (1665) and Johannes Swammerdam, Historia generalis insectorum (1669). Swammerdam depicts the creature in its context, both life sized and enlarged (ca. 15 times).
Fig. 3: the water-gnat, as depicted Johannes Swammerdam, Historia generalis insectorum (1669). Swammerdam depicts the creature in its context, both life sized and enlarged (ca. 15 times). © University Library Leiden

Swammerdam considered it his duty to point to the marvels of God’s creation. Swammerdam was very much aware of his talent as an anatomist and draftsman. He applauded the publication of Hooke’s Micrographia (1665), Redi’s Esperienze intorno alla generazione degl’insetti (1668) and Malpighi’s De Bombyce (published by the Royal Society in 1669) and considered them as allies in his campaign against spontaneous generation.

In his Historia insectorum generalis (1669) Swammerdam demonstrated that all insects come from eggs, and all go through a stage-like development. Occasionally, he also went into a visual dialogue with Hooke (figs 2 and 3). Whereas the latter famously had represented the alien micro-world with no visual clues of the absolute size and context of the objects portrayed, Swammerdam employed a technique in which each creature was represented both life-size, and magnified. The microscope was only used occasionally. Graphically, he showed the uniformity of nature, pointing at similarities between the development of an insect, frog and carnation (figs 4 and 5).

Figs 4 and 5; the stage-like development of the louse; and the frog and carnation as depicted in Johannes Swammerdam, Historia generalis insectorum (1669). Visually, the uniformity of nature is demonstrated. Each creature is depicted life sized, and enlarged in various stages of development.
Figs 4 and 5: The stage-like development of the louse; and the frog and carnation as depicted in Johannes Swammerdam, Historia generalis insectorum (1669). Visually, the uniformity of nature is demonstrated. Each creature is depicted life sized, and enlarged in various stages of development. © University Library Leiden
Fig. 5. © University Library Leiden

In Historia insectorum Swammerdam concentrated on the outward appearance of insects. Inspired by the work of Malpighi from 1670 he now focused on anatomizing and using the microscope more intensively. Studying and representing the inner parts of these tiny creatures required new visual techniques. Since Swammerdam observed what no one before him had seen, he had to train his eye with regard to the observations, and invent ways to represent them. Without external aid, showing the strange and previously unseen forms of isolated organs of a creature would make no sense.

The images Swammerdam sent to Oldenburg could be seen as experiments in form. Compared to the visual strategy he previously used, Swammerdam was now both zooming in and zooming out. To make an easy start: the creature depicted in figure V in the right lower corner marked A (see fig. 1 above) is easily recognizable as a nose-horned beetle (depicted at life size). The drawing is deceptively simple, but shows Swammerdam’s talent to represent the creature with just a few well-chosen lines and brushes of ink. Swammerdam deeply admired the work of artist Joris Hoefnagel (1542-1600), who at the end of the sixteenth century had made pioneering watercolors of all kinds of insects. We could read Swammerdam’s sketch as a self-aware introduction to the beholder – see how easily I can draw things familiar to you; you can also trust me when I show you places and things unknown to you. Later drawings by Swammerdam of the nose-horned beetle (fig. 5) are much more elaborated, and can be seen as explicit references not only to Hoefnagel but also to the works of art by Jacques de Gheyn (1565-1629) and even Albrecht Dürer.

Fig. 6: Some beetles; the male genitals system of the nose-horned beetle (fig. viii). Swammerdam drew this in 1678 for his Biblia Naturae; the manuscript, now kept in Leiden university Library, was only published in 1737. Leiden, UB, BPL 126B, fol. 31r. © University Library Leiden

By now, we should refer to the letter. By focusing on the creature’s inner parts, Swammerdam uses the strategy of both mapmakers and earlier anatomists: the legend. He writes: ‘Figure V expresses to the life (‘ad vivum exprimit’) the genitalia of the horn-nosed beetle. A the beetle, B the horny part of the penis, C the place from which the penis protrudes when erect….’ Etcetera. What we see are interior details: strangely shaped organs, curled lines, flower-shaped structures. Using a legend is a successful strategy here, and perhaps the only workable way in representing the previously unknown. Moreover, as Swammerdam occasionally stressed to his readers, the slightly stylized drawings also helped the observer who for the first time would enter this unknown territory to discern and identify the organs in there. Swammerdam also employs this strategy in the Figures I-IV (fig. 1), where he illustrates the passage in which he explains in painstaking detail the pulmonary artery system of the frog. These drawings are the few by Swammerdam I know of in which color is used. This had a practical reason: the drawings represent, as Swammerdam put it, ‘graphically’ (‘graphice exprimit’) how the structure within the lungs had been made visible by injecting colored wax. Hence, what we see is a representation of a preparation interacting with a text.

The point is, of course, that without the accompanying letter, the images become meaningless, and vice versa. Some of Swammerdam’s letters and images are still at the archives of the Royal Society (now separated, to be sure). They remind us that in the scientific culture of the 1670s the boundaries between words and images, and between science and art, were still rather fluent ones.

An image interview with Noah Moxham

Drawing of dissection of a rattle snake, RCP MS 618, f. 6r. @ Royal College of Physicians, London
Drawing of dissection of a rattle snake, RCP MS 618, f. 6r. @ Royal College of Physicians, London

Can you tell us briefly about yourself and your background? 

Noah Moxham; historian of science/book historian (the proportion varies according to what precisely I happen to be working on). I’m a postdoc on Publishing the Philosophical Transactions: The social, cultural and economic history of a learned journal 1665-2015, an AHRC-funded project at the University of St Andrews, and I’m interested in the construction, communication and afterlife of scientific knowledge in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Which picture have you chosen, and what does it show?

These are the drawings – strictly speaking in an unknown hand, although we know for a virtual certainty that there are only four possible candidates including Tyson himself – accompanying Edward Tyson’s dissection and anatomical description of a rattlesnake from Virginia. They were made in February 1683 and shown to a meeting of the Royal Society that month, and subsequently published in the Philosophical Transactions (below is the engraving made for that purpose by Michael Burghers in Oxford).

Anatomy of a rattle snake, in Philosophical Transaction, vol. 13, nr. 144 (February 1683).
Anatomy of a rattle snake, in Philosophical Transaction, vol. 13, nr. 144 (February 1683).

Why have you chosen this image?

I like it partly for what it represents – an attempt to treat a creature with all kinds of mythic associations and which had been historically represented in fantastical ways as an anatomical subject. But at the same time the drawing isn’t purely schematic: the upside-down head with the jaws wedged open, the fangs on display, the forked tongue extended, combine – I think deliberately – into a posture of threat. I think it’s meant to open up the subject to the possibility of objective examination but to retain a hint of the dangerous and the exotic.

How does this image resonate with you in the context of your work or research?

It crops up at an important time in the history of the Royal Society, and of scientific publishing. It’s part of a series of anatomical dissections prepared by Tyson under the terms of his new appointment as Curator of Experiments at the Royal Society. He and a colleague, the chemist Frederick Slare, were to make sure between them that the Society was to be entertained with at least one chemical or anatomical demonstration per week. The Society’s reputation depended on the interest of the meetings and on the new discoveries it broadcast, or rebroadcast, to the learned world in print, and it was in a sad way on both fronts in late 1682 (largely the fault of the overworked Robert Hooke, who was doubling up as Secretary and curator of experiments, responsible for publishing a periodical, for keeping the Fellows entertained at meetings, for the Society’s record-keeping and correspondence, and still needing to earn a living on the side). But it also signals what I think is a broader effort on the part of the Society and its Fellows to promote serial or systematic work in natural history over the next several years; during that time the Society was directly involved in the production of numerous taxonomic and descriptive works on birds, fishes, British plants, insects, and ‘animals’ (mostly quadrupeds, with the odd fish, bird or cetacean thrown in).

Do you know anything about the making-process of the image? Does knowing how the image was created affect your understanding of the image?

We don’t know who drew these, but we know from Tyson’s list of the people who assisted at the dissection, all of whom were known as draughtsmen and illustrators, who the candidates are. They were Henry Hunt, Robert Hooke’s former apprentice and the Society’s Operator (in effect an all-purpose technical assistant); Richard Waller, a friend of Tyson’s and Hooke’s, the son of a painter and subsequently Secretary of the Society; and William Faithorne, a London draughtsman and engraver. In fact we know that they were all involved in producing the drawings of the snake, just not which particular drawings they were responsible for. It’s useful and important to know that this was a collaborative effort; to note Tyson’s determination to thank, and thus make public, the technical skills and assistance that were a necessary part of the process of making scientific knowledge in the early modern period; and to realise that this represents the beginning of a fairly long and productive research collaboration between Tyson and Waller in particular, working together over the next several years to produce a series of illustrated dissections – some published and some not. They worked together on the anatomies of small reptiles, insects and annelids – a green lizard, a caterpillar, and a tapeworm, among others. Their collaboration focussed especially on small creatures, some of which had only been opened up to detailed anatomical study by the advent of the microscope and which called for skilled, fiddly work in dissecting and examining.

What significance does the image have for the historical understanding of the relationship between knowledge-making and image-making?

Some of that significance is fairly specific – it comes from the fact that this was intended to be the beginning of a new, sustained and systematic research effort on the part of the Royal Society, one that it attempted to maintain by building it into the Society’s organisational structure. It’s part of a networked process; these drawings (and the anatomical preparations resulting from the dissection) were shown and discussed in meetings before being sent on to Oxford, where they were also examined by the emergent Oxford Philosophical Society. (This is why the drawing was engraved there and not in London). The relationship and the regular exchanges of drawings, objects and ideas between Oxford and London became an important part of the process of making natural knowledge in England during the 1680s.

It’s also worth noting that the engraving, in particular, marks the beginning of a significant upturn in both the frequency with which contributions to the Philosophical Transactions featured engraved illustrations and in their quality. The introduction of more, and better, illustrations is an important step in the development of scientific periodicals, from what were editorially compiled newssheets gathering letter-extracts, scraps of information and new discoveries into a credible site for researchers to advance fully-developed, self-sufficient claims to knowledge.

Do you have any additional thoughts or comments on the image you would like to share?

The object – in this case the animal – behind the drawing has a history, and one that we can trace to some extent. It was brought from North America for a Virginia Merchant (it was reported to have made the Transatlantic voyage in a basket, and gone four months without eating); it was exhibited to the Royal Society alive, and then dissected once dead. It’s not only a good example of the complexity and reach of the networks that brought objects and information to the attention of the Royal Society and organisations like it, but of the sheer haphazardness of that process. Tyson had previously dissected a porpoise brought ashore by Thames fishermen; and the Royal Society negotiated the purchase of a sick ostrich for Tyson to dissect in January 1683 (possibly one of twenty in the royal menagerie, a gift from the Moroccan ambassador to Charles II).

Copying Hevelius’s lunar template

By Nydia Pineda De Avila

Hevelius, Figura Primaria Phasium Lunarium in Selenographia, 1665 © Royal Society
Fig. 1: Hevelius, Figura Primaria Phasium Lunarium in Selenographia, 1665 © Royal Society

The word selenographia, a Latinized Greek noun derived from Selene (the moon), and graphia (from the verb graphein, to scratch, draw, write, represent, describe) was coined in the seventeenth-century to refer to textual and visual lunar description made from telescopic observations. From the 1640s, the word designates a map of the features of the satellite. In the production of these images, astronomers and artists engaged in graphical experimentation for the efficient translation of fragmentary views (it was impossible to see an image of the full moon at once through a seventeenth-century lens) into a detailed representation of the entire lunar disc. A gallery of seventeenth-century selenographies can be found here.

This image (Fig. 1) is perhaps the most abstract selenography of its time. The lunar features are not inscribed within a circle representing the limits of the disc but are floating on the blank page. The moon is not intended to look naturalistic: there is no expression of volume or tone as in the phases engraved by Claude Mellan under the direction of Pierre Gassendi and Nicholas Fabri de Peiresc or in the full moon drawn and engraved by Jean Patigny under Jean-Dominique Cassini. Here the depressions and elevations of the surface are reduced to irregular shapes engraved with a single line. A rhomboid grid marks an imaginary centre of the disc that was intended to orientate the user of the telescope. This is not a moonscape but a two-dimensional representation of the topography of the moon. Johannes Hevelius published the image in his lunar treatise, the Selenographia sive lunae descriptio, published in Gdansk in 1646.

Hevelius explains the use of this image as an astronomical instrument © Royal Society
Fig. 2: Hevelius explains the use of this image as an astronomical instrument © Royal Society

Hevelius used this template to reconstruct more detailed maps of the full moon and the forty phases that illustrate the Selenographia. The template itself, called Figura Primaria Phasium et Lunationum (called Fig. T and its variant Tt) was inserted in chapter 44 of the book; and in many cases copies of the figures were bound at the end of the volume. Hevelius explained this picture as a synthesis of observations taken across a period of four years. He presented the image as an astronomical instrument that would serve the recording of lunar eclipses, the occultation of celestial bodies, and the calculation of terrestrial longitude. The astronomer could shade or mark lines over the image to show the progress of a lunar eclipse or the places of the conjunction of a planet. The author’s intention was for his map to be transferred on to copper plates so that it could be easily reproduced and used across the world. However, the template was perhaps not as helpful as Hevelius would have liked (Fig. 2).

Hevelius, Transit of Jupiter over the moon 30 September 1671, Royal Society LBO/5/2/1 © Royal Society
Fig. 3: Hevelius, Transit of Jupiter over the moon 30 September 1671, Royal Society LBO/5/2/1 © Royal Society

Though engraving and etching was increasingly valued and practiced by amateurs throughout the seventeenth century, the reproduction of Hevelius’s template would have required not only knowledge of the craft and access to a roller press (or, these lacking, to an engraver) but also a real motivation. My survey of copies of this image in the archives of the Royal Society indicates that astronomers did not use Hevelius’s recording aid. Thus far, evidence suggests that they preferred to record lunar phenomena in tables and text rather than through illustration.

Hevelius’s correspondence and the copies of his papers do not frequently convey the results of observations through a visualisation: the earliest example of a communication accompanied by a lunar template representing the transit of Jupiter over the moon in September 1671 is found within the series now called Letter Book Original that gathers a selection of copies of autograph letters indexed by Richard Waller in 1689 (Fig. 3). This template is much smaller than the one printed in the Selenographia. The image was most likely sent with the intention of being published, for it was printed in the Philosophical Transactions to illustrate Hevelius’s communication.

Pen and ink copy of Figura Primaria. Johann Philipp Wurzelbaur, Lunar Eclipse 25 March 1689, Cl.P 8i 44 © Royal Society
Fig. 6: Pen and ink copy of Figura Primaria. Johann Philipp Wurzelbaur, Lunar Eclipse 25 March 1689, Cl.P 8i 44 © Royal Society

In the volume holding Hevelius’s correspondence with Henry Oldenburg, only three observations, all pertaining to the later part of Hevelius’s life, are illustrated with this reduced version of the Figura Primaria: two lunar eclipses of 1676 and 1682, and an occultation of Jupiter of 1686. These are also appended to tables and texts. Arguably, Hevelius also sent these papers aiming for them to be published. It seems that he used these templates not as instruments but as visualisations to communicate observations effectively to an interested yet not specialised readership (Figs 4 & 5).

Etched copy of Figura Primaria. Georg Christopher Eimmart, Lunar Eclipse observed at Nuremberg 25 March 1689, Royal Society Cl.P. 8i/ 38 © Royal Society
Fig. 7: Etched copy of Figura Primaria. Georg Christopher Eimmart, Lunar Eclipse observed at Nuremberg 25 March 1689, Royal Society Cl.P. 8i/ 38 © Royal Society

Remarkably, the lunar template is also scarce in observations sent to the Royal Society by other astronomers. Etched or pen and ink copies of Hevelius’s Figura Primaria are found in recordings of lunar eclipses taken between 1689 and 1690, which were sent by astronomers of the observatory of Nuremberg, Georg Christoph Eimmart and his collaborator Johann Philipp Wurzelbaur (Fig. 6). Notably, these astronomers also represented lunar observations with Hevelius’s template in self-published pamphlets promoting their work in Nuremberg in 1685 and in the periodical the Acta Eruditorum of 1686. Eimmart was an astronomer as well as an accomplished engraver but the fact that he was capable of making copies of Hevelius’s template does not explain why he and his friend decided to convey their results in this way (Fig. 7). I would like to understand if Eimmart and Wurzelbaur adopted Hevelius’s graphics in order to promote their work at the observatory of Nuremberg within his scientific legacy.

This example helps me continue my reflection about the purpose of lunar maps in the seventeenth century. The case of Hevelius’s Figura Primaria adds to a number of instances in which the motivation for producing maps of the moon is not purely astronomical. Thus far, I think that although the process of making selenographies is related to the desire to test technology and to further understand the topography of the satellite through observation and drawing, the publication of these images obeys the desire to promote a scientific identity.

Nydia’s own version of Hevelius’s Fig. T in drypoint and chine collé
Nydia’s own version of Hevelius’s Fig. T in drypoint and chine collé


Learning to see

By Sietske Fransen

Drawing of a cross-section of a worm, by Sietske
Drawing of a cross-section of a worm, by Sietske

At the age of 18 I started my undergraduate degree. I had wanted to become a gynaecologist for many years and had therefore signed up to study Medicine at the University of Nijmegen (in the Netherlands). However, about six months before the end of high school, I realised I was more interested in how things work inside bodies, and why people get ill, than in how to deal with diseases at the patient’s end. So, I changed my course to Biology at Utrecht University, to learn all about the workings of living organisms.

Drawing of a locust, by Sietske
Drawing of a locust, by Sietske

At the time, the first year of Biology was build up from the smallest to the largest systems, meaning that we started with Organic Chemistry in September and ended with Ecology at the end of our first year. And over the last four months of year one, we also had the courses Zoology I & II. In my memory (I might be wrong…) this included “practica” on every afternoon from Tuesday till Friday.

The main thing we did during those practical hours was looking at organisms and their anatomies, with the naked eye and the microscope. Dissecting all types of small animals (from lugworms to rats) was extremely informative, however, most of the specimens would come on pre-prepared microscope slides. Looking at these slides we could observe all the different types of tissues and cells in the different organisms of the animal kingdom. In other parts of our course we would be reading or hearing about them, but actually seeing things ourselves was a very important part of our education.

Drawing of a squid, by Sietske
Drawing of a squid, by Sietske

At the time, the ordeal felt like a critique of my drawing skills, but I now understand that I was not taught to draw (nor expected to draw well), but rather educated to observe and see. To be able to distinguish the different organs in a worm, a squid, and a locust, is one thing. However, the process of distinguishing different cell types under a microscope, is quite another. Hence, our long afternoons of dissecting, microscopy and drawing, were all about learning to see.

Malpighian corpuscles, drawn by Sietske
Malpighian corpuscles, drawn by Sietske

This has become all the more apparent to me since I started working on the Making Visible project. I have begun to admire even more the men who started using microscopes and telescopes in the seventeenth century and described what they saw. The things they saw through these devices had never been seen before by them or any previous philosopher. No text book would help them in the right direction, for them no lecturer who spoke about that exact object that same morning. This makes it all the more surprising then to find their names in modern biology books, such as the renal or Malpighian corpuscle (a part of the kidney), which, three hundred years after Malpighi’s first observation, I still had to draw at university.

With this blog post I am not getting to any answers or spectacular new observations, but rather to formulating questions which I would like investigate during the coming years of our project. I am wondering whether the seventeenth-century anatomists and microscopists were educated in drawing. Were those who took a medical degree at university or those Fellows of the Royal Society who could be described as ‘amateurs’, ‘liefhebbers’, or gentlemen, taught how to draw specimens? And did they need these artistic skills, or did they rather need an education in seeing and observing? And maybe the two are joined exercises?

Sperm drawn by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, Letter to the Royal Society, 31 May 1678, EL/L1/36
Sperm drawn by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, Letter to the Royal Society, 31 May 1678, EL/L1/36

Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), the Dutch microscopist and most prolific correspondent of the early Royal Society, did not go to university and specifically stated in his first letter to the Royal Society that he is not a draughtsman himself and that he therefore hired skilled people to draw his observations. However, some of his own drawings, such as this drawing of male sperm, do not come across as bad drawings, and in fact seem to demonstrate a certain degree of skill. Therefore, I am curious to understand more about the seventeenth-century notion of the skilled draughtsman. Also these draughtsmen had never seen the specimens under the microscope, but they were, at least according to Van Leeuwenhoek, better skilled in drawing. So what is the relation between observation and the registration of these observations, and how was a seventeenth-century “scientist” educated and prepared to do both?

By looking at Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, as well as Regnier de Graaf (1641-1673) and Jan Swammerdam (1637-1680), two other Dutch microscopists who corresponded with the Fellows of the Royal Society, I will investigate their skills in observation and drawing, and the way in which they report about their own skills in their letters. Hopefully this investigation will give us a better sense of the education Dutch anatomists and microscopists received in terms of drawing skills, and also which skills of observation they expected from their readers.

Reflections on the first Making Visible Workshop

By Sietske Fransen and Katie Reinhart

On June 17 & 18 the Making Visible project organised its first project workshop. Coming towards the end of the first year of our project, it has been especially useful for us (the postdocs on the team) to summarise our work so far and to see where we stand in relation to the major project questions. To be able to answer questions about the use of scientific images in the early Royal Society (1660-1710) we are inventorizing the visual material in the Royal Society’s manuscript and printed sources, by entering all our findings into a database. This database will be used both to support our ongoing research and to make this material publicly available through the Royal Society’s Picture Library.

There were many great discussions both in and out of the formal panels
Enjoying informal discussions

To fill a database with visual material seems more straightforward than it turns out to be, mainly because of questions of classification. What do we call an image and how do we organise them are therefore not only questions on a pragmatic level – in relation to our database – rather they make us wonder how scientific images functioned on a larger scale in the seventeenth century. And exactly for that reason we invited speakers who work on Royal Society materials, and/or similar archives containing early modern materials in other parts of Europe. Around the themes of taxonomy, translatability, and intelligibility of scientific images we discussed early modern uses of images, as well as contemporary strategies for cataloguing and understanding these sources.

Discussing the diverse role of scientific images
Discussing the diverse role of scientific images

The workshop was successful thanks to the wonderful papers by all of the speakers and the discussions that occurred both formally and informally. Getting our heads out of the archival material and talking to so many scholars who are also working with scientific images was probably the most exciting part of the workshop for us. Even though we have the luxury of a five-headed team to discuss our findings and problems on a very regular basis, the fruitfulness of talking to scholars outside our team has once more become very clear. One benefit is the potential for direct collaborations, for example with the German equivalent to the Royal Society, the Leopoldina. Both Wolfgang Eckart and Heinz Schott gave papers about the use of images in the Miscellanea curiosa medico-physica Academiae Naturae Curiosorum (the journal of the Leopoldina) which provided us with rich material for future comparison between this journal and the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

The conversation continued out of the sessions
The conversation continued out of the sessions

Stephanie Moser made us think about the classification of images, and she showed how the field of archeology has been dealing with these issues recently. In his talk about images of Palmyra, Scott Mandelbrote questioned the sometimes grey-line between language and image, imaginative languages, and the role of visualisations in the transmission of information. What has also become very clear from the many talks is the amount of material that is somehow related to the Royal Society, but today kept somewhere else. Think about the collection once owned by the Dutch physician, traveller and Fellow of the Royal Society Nicolaes Witsen: his archive is now spread out over the world, but contains some important material that can tell us more about the function of images in the transmission of knowledge as discovered in previously unknown parts of the world. Another much larger collection is that of Sir Hans Sloane. We already spent a day at the British Library and British Museum several months ago to explore the vast amount of material related to the Royal Society that is part of the Sloane collections. However, the talks by Felicity Roberts and Kim Sloan, but also those by Eric Jorink, Floriana Giallombardo and Noah Moxham showed once more that we will need to connect to other institutions to get an even better sense of the activities of the Royal Society in the seventeenth century.

Summing up the workshop with a roundtable discussion
The closing roundtable discussion

Fortunately we have several more years of funding left on our project, and once we have finished cataloguing all the Royal Society materials we will continue our research in other places in London and abroad. And since one of our project questions addresses what was the influence of the Fellows’ lives outside the Royal Society on their activities within the Society, we look forward to continuing our conversations with scholars of science and art who work on late seventeenth-century material.



Richard Waller’s ‘Limned Plants’

By Sachiko Kusukawa

Watercolour study of knapweed and cornflower by Richard Waller (d. 1715). © Royal Society Archives, MS/131/40
Watercolour study of knapweed and cornflower by Richard Waller (d. 1715). © Royal Society Archives, MS/131/40

This drawing shows two plants common in England, the knapweed (Centaurea nigra) and the cornflower (Centaurea cyanus). Each plant is shown in two parts, one showing the root with the stem and leaves, and the other showing the remainder of the plant with leaves and flowers. This was a well-known convention to show plants whose full features didn’t quite fit the space available. It also allowed the pith to be shown through an oblique cut at both ends.

Richard Waller, Watercolour study (detail).
Richard Waller, Watercolour study (detail).

At the top in the middle is a pistil in two sizes: one likely the actual size, and the other, enlarged with a microscope. Reproductive organs of plants had been studied since Andrea Cesalpino (1519-1603), and viewed as key to morphological classification by fellows of the Royal Society such as John Ray (1627-1705). Showing actual and microscopic views was a convention popularized in Robert Hooke’s (1635-1703) Micrographia (1665 – see for example the actual and enlarged full stop).


Richard Waller, cross-section on Watercolour study of knapweed and cornflower (detail)
Richard Waller, cross-section on Watercolour study of knapweed and cornflower (detail)

At the bottom centre is a microscopic view of a cross section of the stem. Such anatomical structures of plants were of interest to Fellows such as Nehemiah Grew, Francis Willughby and John Ray who wanted to understand the motion of sap in plants.


The inscriptions at the top identify the plants by reference to printed books. ‘Iacea nigra Ger: Nigra vulg. Park. Knap=weed or Matfellon’ means that the plant was called ‘Iacea nigra’ in John Gerard’s Herbal (1597, p. 588) and ‘Iacea nigra vulgaris’ in John Parkinson’s Theatrum botanicum (1640, p. 468), which Parkinson also identified as ‘our common matfellon or knapweede’. ‘Cyanus I.B. Cyanus Minor Vulg. Ger. Park. Blew=bottle’ meant that it was the plant identified as ‘Cyanus’ in Jean Bauhin’s Historia Plantarum Universalis (1650-51) and ‘Cyanus minor vulgaris’ by both Gerard and Parkinson.

Richard Waller, inscription on Watercolour study of knapweed and cornflower (detail)
Richard Waller, inscription on Watercolour study of knapweed and cornflower (detail)

The numbering of these plants as ‘46’ and ‘47’ implies that this sheet was part of a series, which it indeed was. The books cited were standard herbals available in Europe and in England. Because the same plant could be known under different names in this period, it was usual to cite multiple authorities. This also ensured that one did not claim a new discovery in vain.

This watercolour is signed ‘Ric: Waller pinx[it]– Richard Waller painted [this]’. Richard Waller (d. 1715) was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1681, and served as its Secretary (1687-1709, 1710 -1714).

Richard Waller, signature on Watercolour study (detail)
Richard Waller, signature on Watercolour study (detail)

He was among a handful of Fellows of the Royal Society who were graphically proficient. He most likely learnt to paint from his mother Mrs Mary Moore (1633-1716), whose painting of ‘Thomas More’ (or rather a painting after Holbein’s Thomas Cromwell) was donated to the Bodleian Library by Robert Whitehall in 1674. At the meeting of the Royal Society on 11 June 1713 (Royal Society Archives, Journal Book Original, vol. 11), it was reported that Waller had  ‘shown several Draughts of Grasses and some other common wild Plants, which he had drawn in Water Colours by the life, of the natural size: In the Grasses one part, viz. as much as belonged to the Production of one Grain or seed was represented as seen by the microscope’. The ‘natural size’ and the microscopic views of the reproductive parts confirm that this drawing must belong to this group of watercolours shown to the Society. It is likely that Waller had been working on these since 1689, when Hooke recorded in his diary seeing his ‘limned plants’. The drawings were shown to the Royal Society in November 1691 (Royal Society Archives, Journal Book Original, vol. 9), and judged ‘to be drawn with the utmost degree of curiosity’. Curiosity here carries the period sense of studious attention to details, and ‘limning’ – originally the technique of creating miniature portraits – was a fitting method by which to express details, as can be seen here particularly in the flower heads of the knapweed with the use of subtly different colours. It may appear odd that a Fellow of the Royal Society in late seventeenth century would bother to draw common plants found in England rather than seek out the exotic or rare species. Waller appears to have been inspired by John Ray’s morphological classification of plants (by seed leaves, flowering/non-flowering plants, reproductive organs) in the latter’s Historia plantarum (1686-1688). Waller thought that a pictorial scheme following Ray’s classification could enable ‘a man unskillfull in Botanicks … to know the name of any of these plants growing in England’ (Royal Society Archives, Journal Book Copy, vol. 8). A systematic classification of plants required information on the exotic as well as the common, and while Waller was conversant with the standard European works on plants at the time, he was also interested in enabling those in England with no botanical training to identify the plants that grew around them.

This drawing is a beautiful example of how ‘limning’ with a fine brush and subtle colours expressed morphological, anatomical and microscopic details that interested Fellows of the Royal Society at the time. Placing the plant among known, standard works of the period ensured that its identification was reliable, and the drawing could then be used further for the purposes of classification or edification. But we still know too little about the role of graphic techniques and training in historical observational practices at the early Royal Society.

Further Reading

Waller’s ‘limning’ of fossils have been rediscovered recently alongside Hooke’s drawings, S. Kusukawa, ‘The Fossil Drawings by Robert Hooke and Richard Waller‘, Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 67 (2013), 123-38.

The extent to which the extant drawings formed part of Waller’s pictorial table is pursued in L.R. Griffing, ‘Who invented the dichotomous key? Richard Waller’s watercolors of the herbs of Britain‘, American Journal of Botany 98-12 (2011).

Waller became a close friend of Hooke’s, whose biography he composed, see N. Moxham, ‘An experimental “Life” for an experimental life: Richard Waller’s biography of Robert Hooke (1705)’, British Journal for the History of Science (2016).

For Mary Moore’s tract on women’s rights, see Frances Teague and Margaret J. M. Ezell, Educating English daughters: late seventeenth-century debates (Toronto and Tempe, AZ: Iter and MRTS, 2016).

For Waller’s attempt to stabilize colour terminology to render more reliable descriptions of flora and fauna, see Sachiko Kusukawa, ‘Richard Waller’s Colour Chart (1686)’, in Colour histories. Science, art, and technology in the 17th and 18th centuries, ed. by M. Bushart and F. Steinle (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 2015).