Eye to Eye with a 350-Year Old Cow: Leeuwenhoek’s Specimens and Original Microscope Reunited

Unknown artist for Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, section of an optical nerve of a cow, 4 December 1674. Graphite and ink on paper. 303 x 215 mm. London, Royal Society archives, EL/L1/9. Photo credit ©The Royal Society. This is the drawing of a section of an optical nerve of a cow that Antoni van Leeuwenhoek had made by an anonymous artist in Delft. This is the image he sent to the Royal Society in the same letter in which he sent the specimens. The drawing together with his written description was supposed to guide the observations made by the Fellows of the Royal Society when they would observe his specimens in London. We can easily recognise the larger and smaller holes and the sieve-like form which he described. Comparing the photograph with the drawing, it is easy to distinguish the thicker outer layer of the nerve and the uneven holes in the middle of the nerve section.
Unknown artist for Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, section of an optical nerve of a cow, 4 December 1674. Graphite and ink on paper. 303 x 215 mm. London, Royal Society archives, EL/L1/9. Photo credit ©The Royal Society.
This is the drawing of a section of an optical nerve of a cow that Antoni van Leeuwenhoek had made by an anonymous artist in Delft. This is the image he sent to the Royal Society in the same letter in which he sent the specimens. The drawing together with his written description was supposed to guide the observations made by the Fellows of the Royal Society when they would observe his specimens in London. We can easily recognise the larger and smaller holes and the sieve-like form which he described. Comparing the photograph with the drawing, it is easy to distinguish the thicker outer layer of the nerve and the uneven holes in the middle of the nerve section.
Original Leeuwenhoek microscope with specimen envelopes sent by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek to the Royal Society in London between 1674 and 1687. The microscope is kept at Rijksmuseum Boerhaave in Leiden, the specimens are from the Royal Society in London. Photo credit ©Wim van Egmond
Original Leeuwenhoek microscope with specimen envelopes sent by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek to the Royal Society in London between 1674 and 1687. The microscope is kept at Rijksmuseum Boerhaave in Leiden, the specimens are from the Royal Society in London.
Photo credit ©Wim van Egmond

What may be the earliest surviving objects seen by microscope – specimens prepared and viewed by the early Dutch naturalist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek – have been reunited with one of his original microscopes for a state of the art photoshoot. This event allowed science historians to recapture the ‘look’ of seventeenth-century science, recording the moment digitally on film and with stunning high-resolution colour photographs for the first time.

Delft-based naturalist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek was one of the first generation of serious microscope users, famous for his high-powered single-lens instruments that enabled him to see the natural world down to the scale of large bacteria. As evidence for his 1670s and 1680s observations, narrated in letters to the London’s Royal Society, he sent a variety of specimens: cows’ optic nerves, sections of cork and elder, and ‘dried phlegm from a barrel’. In September 2019, these materials, in their original packages, flew back across the North Sea to Leiden and the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave—the Dutch national museum of the history of science and medicine—where they were reunited with an original Leeuwenhoek microscope. The museum provided the opportunity for taking photographs through the original microscope, as well as the shooting of moving images. 

Section of optic nerve of a cow
Section of an optical nerve of a cow. This compound image is created with focus stacking photography. Photo credit ©Wim van Egmond.
Leeuwenhoek made this specimen himself. He dried the optical nerve before cutting it in slices, and described how he saw “many openings, very similar to a leather sieve with large and small holes, with the only difference that the holes in the nerve are not round and they are not of the same size.” (Leeuwenhoek to the Royal Society on 4 December 1674).

Science and art historian Dr Sietske Fransen, former ‘Making Visible: The visual and graphic practices of the early Royal Society‘ postdoc at CRASSH and now Leader of the Max Planck Research Group ‘Visualizing Science in Media Revolutions’ at the Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max Planck Institute for Art History orchestrated the event. She conducted readings of Leeuwenhoek’s letters, while photographer Wim van Egmond and Rijksmuseum Boerhaave curator Tiemen Cocquyt were entrusted with the exceedingly delicate operation of filming through the priceless original silver microscope. In combining words and images, the team hope to arrive at a better understanding of Leeuwenhoek’s groundbreaking observations and his use of artists to capture microscope views.  

Cork specimen, photographed through the original Leeuwenhoek microscope with lighting from below, closely resembling imagery that Leeuwenhoek might have observed himself. The center of the image is more in focus than the outside due to field curvature of the original Leeuwenhoek lens. Photo credit ©Wim van Egmond. ​In his letter from 1 June 1674 to the Royal Society, Leeuwenhoek explains how he cut very small particles off a cork with a sharp shaving knife, which he enclosed with the letter.
Cork specimen, photographed through the original Leeuwenhoek microscope with lighting from below, closely resembling imagery that Leeuwenhoek might have observed himself. The center of the image is more in focus than the outside due to field curvature of the original Leeuwenhoek lens. Photo credit ©Wim van Egmond.
​In his letter from 1 June 1674 to the Royal Society, Leeuwenhoek explains how he cut very small particles off a cork with a sharp shaving knife, which he enclosed with the letter.

Professor Sachiko Kusukawa is the Principle Investigator of ‘Making Visible: The visual and graphic practices of the early Royal Society’, a four-year project based at the University of Cambridge dedicated to understanding the illustrative practices of the early Royal Society. She said of the photoshoot: “This event is a result of a network of scholars brought together by the ‘Making Visible’ project, an interdisciplinary research project supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the United Kingdom. It shows what can be achieved through true European collaboration, thanks to the Royal Society, Rijksmuseum Boerhaave, the University of Cambridge (CRASSH) and the Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max Planck Institute for Art History.”

Antoni van Leeuwenhoek was learning how and what to see through a microscope by comparing his own observations with the images printed in Robert Hooke's Micrographia: or some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and inquiries thereupon. This richly illustrated book on microscopy was published by the Royal Society in 1665. Photo credit ©The Royal Society.
Antoni van Leeuwenhoek was learning how and what to see through a microscope by comparing his own observations with the images printed in Robert Hooke’s Micrographia: or some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and inquiries thereupon. This richly illustrated book on microscopy was published by the Royal Society in 1665. Photo credit ©The Royal Society.

Amito Haarhuis, Director of the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave, commented: “With his microscopes, Van Leeuwenhoek opened a whole new world, the microcosmos. He made it possible to see things that no human being had seen before. Thanks to this wonderful project and thanks to the latest technology, we are finally able to see in full detail what Van Leeuwenhoek might have seen 350 years ago. We couldn’t be more excited!”

Keith Moore, the Royal Society’s Librarian said: Our first colour views of the sections cut by Leeuwenhoek’s razor, with the lens made by the same hand, was a heart-stopping moment. The Royal Society will look forward to sharing the excitement with audiences in the run-up to the anniversary of this great Dutch scientist in 2023.

Jan Verkolje, Portrait of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, 1686. Mezzotint. 296 x 227 mm. London, Royal Society archives. Photo credit ©The Royal Society.
Jan Verkolje, Portrait of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, 1686. Mezzotint. 296 x 227 mm. London, Royal Society archives. Photo credit ©The Royal Society.

Some Background

Although Leeuwenhoek’s specimens have been imaged before, this is the first time that the latest digital techniques have been applied to the surviving specimens. Each item was recorded with still images before being filmed with a modern camera, through an original Leeuwenhoek microscope. These moving images allow researchers to replicate the changing light conditions and specimen orientation that were possible while using one of Leeuwenhoek’s hand-held devices. It is the closest recreation to date of Leeuwenhoek’s working conditions.

Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632 – 1723) was born in Delft, Netherlands, where he lived and worked. His interest in lens-making may have been spurred by his connection with the textile trade. He became adept at hand-crafting single-lens microscopes. In these small instruments, the lens was held within silver or brass plates. Specimens were manipulated using an ingenious pin and screw arrangement: brought close to the eye they proved to be a powerful research tool. Very few Leeuwenhoek microscopes survive and today, they are among the treasures of Early Modern science in European museums.

Leeuwenhoek sent his many observations to the Royal Society in London, for publication in the journal Philosophical Transactions. Although the written descriptions were Leeuwenhoek’s own, he collaborated with artists to capture what he was seeing in original drawings, which were engraved for wider dissemination. In a fifty-year period from the 1670s to the 1720s, Leeuwenhoek became the first, or one of the first, to see many aspects of life: he described ‘animalcules’ (micro-organisms such as rotifers), human and animal spermatozoa and investigated the structure of plants. Leeuwenhoek became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1680.

The specimens under the lens were:

• Cork sections and elder pith, 1 June 1674
• Optic nerves of cows, 4 December 1674
• Cotton seeds, dissected by Leeuwenhoek, 2 April 1686
• ‘Heavenly paper’ [algae mats], 17 October 1687

Rijksmuseum Boerhaave is the national museum of the history of science and medicine in the Netherlands and one of the most important scientific and medical history collections in the world, home to four of the 11 remaining original Leeuwenhoek microscopes.

Footnote

Although Leeuwenhoek’s specimens have been imaged before [1], this is the first time that the latest digital techniques have been applied to the surviving specimens.
[1] Brian J. Ford, ‘The Van Leeuwenhoek Specimens’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society,36 (1981), 37-59; see also further work by him at http://www.brianjford.com/wavbiblio.htm

Supported by

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training, in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits and contributes to the economic success of the UK but also to the culture and welfare of societies around the globe.

Rijksmuseum Boerhaave www.rijksmuseumboerhaave.nl is the Netherlands’ national museum of the history of science and medicine. With a world-famous collection spanning five centuries of research and innovation and based on close collaboration with prominent modern scientists, Rijksmuseum Boerhaave offers visitors of all ages a fascinating insight into the world of science. The museum is winner of the European Museum of the Year Award 2019.

Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max Planck Institute for Art History in Rome promotes scientific research in the field of Italian and global history of art and architecture. Established in 1913 as a private foundation by Henriette Hertz (1846–1913), today the Bibliotheca Hertziana is part of the German Max Planck Society and one of the world’s most renowned research institutions for art history. Its impressive specialized library and vast photographic collection are an outstanding scientific resource for art historians from all over the world. 

The Royal Society is a self-governing Fellowship of many of the world’s most distinguished scientists drawn from all areas of science, engineering, and medicine. The Society’s fundamental purpose, as it has been since its foundation in 1660, is to recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity. 

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.

Micrography in Samuel Pepys’ Calligraphy Collection

by Frances Hughes

 

Fig 1: Micrographic text reproduced to form a diagrammatic projection of the Globe, c.1702. Pasted into Samuel Pepys’ Calligraphy Collection, Volume III, p.326. Size of vellum: 55x45mm. Image Credit: By permission of the Pepys Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge.

Towards the end of his life, Samuel Pepys began collecting samples of medieval manuscripts, calligraphy copy-books, and other miscellaneous textual fragments, which were then pasted into three albums to form his calligraphy collection [Pepys Library, Magdalene College Cambridge, 2981-3]. Within Pepys’ social and intellectual context there was a deep and multifaceted interest in the visual and material history of script. This blog post will briefly explore one manifestation of Pepys and his contemporaries’ interest in letter-forms: micrography. 

Volume III of Pepys’ collection features two pages dedicated to the art of ‘micrography’ or miniature writing. The content of some of these tiny sentences are invisible to the naked eye and instead appear as faint lines, made legible only when viewed through a microscope. Each of the samples are accompanied by labels, which explain their textual content in normal handwriting. The art of writing in miniature held a mythologised status as the ultimate demonstration of a writing master’s dexterity and was associated with extreme powers of vision. This tradition was rooted in the classical account of a parchment copy of The Iliad in miniature, which was so small that it could fit inside a nutshell. Part of the appeal of this legend was the fact that The Iliad was known for its epic length. Rather than The Iliad, sixteenth and seventeenth-century micrographic performances usually consisted of authoritative biblical and liturgical passages (The Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments) rendered within the circumference of a particular coin. By using such familiar texts and the standardised diameters of coins, writing masters could more tangibly convey the magnitude – or, more appropriately, minuteness – of their achievement. Early users of the microscope devised various means for measuring the magnified features of natural specimens accurately, such as using grains of sand or the diameter of human hairs to understand the relative scale of magnification. Authoritative blocks of text and individual letters arguably provided similarly familiar notational markers through which comparative looking could be conducted down a microscope.

Micrographic texts provided legible artefacts through which the growing gentlemanly fashion for microscopic observation could be practiced. Pepys’ collection indicates that writing masters responded to new technologies of magnification by producing witty calligrams that were only visible using a microscope. The micrographic sample pictured above appears to the naked eye as a diagrammatic drawing of the globe upon the meridian, featuring navigational lines and markers such as the equator and the poles. The miniature text forming these lines is an English translation of Herman Hugo’s description of God’s creation of the world. The poem describes God copying his creation “o’er again in Miniature” to create Adam, “with all the Art of Heav’n design’d,/ The mortal Image of th’Immortal Mind.” Adam’s mind is described as a miniature microcosmic version of the entire world, a bridge between the creator and creation. The human artifice required to create this feat of micrography can therefore be seen, in turn, to mimic God’s creative act. Moreover, the relationship between mankind’s capacity for deciphering God’s creation and the process of reading miniature lettering recalls the famous reference to Adam in Robert Hooke’s Micrographia, where he describes the patterns of nature under the microscope as a form of divine language: “[W]ho knows, but the Creator may, in those characters, have written and engraven many of his most mysterious designs and counsels, and given man a capacity, which, assisted with diligence and industry, may be able to read and understand them.”

We know that Pepys read Robert Hooke’s Micrographia avidly and purchased his own microscope. Intellectually inclined gentlemen like Pepys could utilise their new optical aids by training them on the products of human artifice, practising their observational skills on texts that were more immediately ‘legible’ than biological specimens. These tiny samples evidence the diffusion of broader intellectual concerns on topics such as microscopy, natural philosophy and theology within the scribal arts, centred on interactions between intellectually-engaged clients such as Pepys and the writing masters that they patronised.

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.

A Visit to the Making & Knowing Lab

By Sietske Fransen & Katie Reinhart

As the start of the respective second and third years of our research projects, the Making Visible post-docs and the Genius before Romanticism team visited the Making and Knowing project last week at Columbia University in New York. The Making and Knowing project, led by Professor Pamela Smith, has the aim to reconstruct the sixteenth-century artisanal workshop as to understand more about the practice of making and knowing in the early modern period.

Oyster ash and cuttlefish bone are just a few of the things one will find in the Making & Knowing lab
Oyster ash and cuttlefish bone are just a few of the things one will find in the Making & Knowing lab

Based around an anonymous manuscript (BNF Ms. Fr. 640) the project transcribes and translates the manuscript and then reproduces the recipes and experiments as described by the author-compiler. The final outcome of the project will be a fully annotated and translated online edition of the manuscript. To do all this, the project’s director, the project manager, and three post-docs work closely together with a large group of experts (from the digital humanities to expert makers), while the reproducing of recipes mainly happens in a learning environment. The latter means that the research group offers graduate courses to students at Columbia University in which the students work with the manuscript, and re-create the described recipes.

A drawer of imitation coral
A drawer full of imitation coral

Since the theme of our current (second) year of the project is ‘expertise’, especially how expertise could be gained by the fellows of the Royal Society, and how expertise would help and influence their visual practices, a visit to the laboratory of the Making and Knowing project has been very insightful.

Every semester, the Making and Knowing project runs a graduate seminar where students from different fields can learn about early modern artisanal practices through hands-on participation in the lab. But, like any craft process it is hard to fully grasp without doing it yourself, so we donned our lab coats and joined the class for a day. The day we were observers, the subject under investigation was making and casting from bread moulds.

Scientific laboratory or modern day cabinet of curiosities?
Scientific laboratory or modern day cabinet of curiosities?

The day began with a seminar-style discussion of assigned readings; then the students discussed the various trials and tribulations of their attempts to bake bread from early modern recipes, which they completed ahead of time at home. Students followed various recipes, but unlike modern instructions, most did not include specific amounts, times, or temperatures leaving students to follow their best judgement (or guess) on how to proceed. A few students experienced with bread baking followed their instincts, but the rest had to wrestle with recipes that assumed a high degree of tacit knowledge. After baking, the students made moulds from the bread by impressing small objects (a key, a toy, a magnet) into the warm bread. As the bread dried out, they formed the the hardened mold which will later be filled.

img_5499
Bread moulds ready for casting

img_5490img_5486

After lunch we headed to the lab, where, after safety instructions and donning the appropriate gear, we were ready to get casting. The Making and Knowing lab uses the early modern materials described in BNF Ms Fr. 640 (bread, beeswax, cuttlefish bone), but modern equipment (hot plates for heating; fume hoods for safety). Over the next few hours, students slowly melted down the beeswax and sulfur (in the fume hood), and created a steady surface by cutting a flat surface into their bread or securing them with clamps or sand.

Melting the beeswax
Melting the beeswax

Once ready, they poured the molten sulfur or beeswax into their moulds. The pouring needed to happen quickly enough that the substance did not begin to harden, but slow enough that it did not splash out (as happened to Katie).

Katie tries her hand at pouring sulfur into a mould
Katie tries her hand at pouring sulfur into a mould

After filling, the moulds were left to set and harden. After fully setting, the bread was removed to reveal the finished cast object. The finished objects revealed that, as promised in the manuscript, bread was a surprisingly good medium to take an impression. In our excitement, we realised that we failed to take a picture of a final object from the bread moulding experiment, but the entire process was probably more interesting and important than the final product!

img_5546img_5549

The second day of our visit to the Making and Knowing team consisted of an afternoon seminar in which all present participants of the three projects, presented on their work and experiences as researchers on these collaborative and interdisciplinary projects. The discussion was wide ranging, but over the course of the afternoon several themes and key questions arose. We talked about the knowledge that could be gained only be doing – knowledge of materials and processes that the Making and Knowing team learned over the course of their recreations.

However, how do we, as historians, study and communicate our ideas about what Pamela Smith calls ‘experiential knowledge’, if words are insufficient to explain or encompass this type of knowledge? It was interesting to hear from one of the new Making and Knowing postdocs, Tianna Uchacz, that she also found gaps or tacit knowledge in the descriptions of recipes by students. She experienced this by following their essays on the making of bread to bake her own bread for the bread moulding experiment. Would there be other ways to communicate and report our experiences? Not just verbally, but also through videos, drawings, and informal forms of writing? It is clear that these new forms of historical investigation might also call for new or alternative ways of communication.

20160926_144852 20160926_14490120160926_144913

img_5650
A busy day in the Making & Knowing lab

One of the other major points discussed was the importance of failure. The importance of failure to learn and understand a process but also the reporting about failure to be able to understand and keep open the possibility of re-tracing one’s steps. Unfortunately many mistakes and failures are not written down and are therefore forgotten as essential steps in the process of knowledge creation.

Another part of the discussion centred on the value, and problems, with historical recreation. The Making and Knowing lab has gone to impressive lengths to obtain early modern materials, but they use modern heating, lighting, and laboratory equipment. Thus, how faithful can we consider the outcomes of their experiments to what might have happened in the past? This discussion resonated with us in relation to the slow start of our own intaglio project. We are using early modern engraving tools, but we are undertaking the project and learning to engrave in a very modern context. If we can’t devote the time and resources to truly becoming early modern engravers (which we can’t, we’re already historians) then is the whole endeavour pointless or can learning this skill, even in a modern way, still inform how we look on and understand the printed images we study?

Our visit to the Making and Knowing lab allowed us to reflect on and discuss these issues, and we thank Pamela Smith and all of her team for the invitation and for allowing us to join the lab for a day!

img_5646
Ready for some history

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

 

An Image Interview with Ian Lawson

HookeRS_466
Louse from Robert Hooke, Micrographia, 1665

 

Can you tell us briefly about yourself and your background?

Ian Lawson, historian and philosopher of early modern science. I recently finished a PhD in the Unit for History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Sydney, about the seventeenth century natural philosopher Robert Hooke and his work with early microscopes. I am interested in his fiddly daily activities with the instruments and how they are interpreted and seen, not only in terms of the work he produced but the social position of such work. Now I’m visiting the Max Planck Institut für Wissenschaftgeschichte in Berlin, and planning out a new project about the optical instruments which became fashionable in Enlightenment Europe.

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

This is Hooke’s famous louse from his 1665 book Micrographia. Hooke drew the images for the book himself. He was an apprentice, for a while, to the portrait painter Peter Lely, and became an accomplished draftsman. The newly-founded Royal Society brought Hooke to London from Oxford for the express purpose of drawing insects, observed through a microscope, as gifts for King Charles II. The project morphed into a book, printed with the money and the blessing of the Royal Society, illustrated with 38 such pictures. This is one of the last, and folds out to the size of a small cat. It was a book which transformed things so small that no one had ever seen them before into household objects.

(There’s a video of William Poole talking about this aspect of the book and showing the page containing the flea, which gives a good impression of it’s size and heft. The book itself is on Project Gutenberg.)

Why have you chosen this image? 

It’s an impressive image considered solely as an early modern engraving, and a masterpiece of natural historical drawing (though it’s not my favourite drawing from Micrographia to look at). What grabs me about it is that it’s not a drawing of only a louse, but of Hooke as well. It’s his hair the creature is gripping, and his blood that colours the shapes in its abdomen. The picture relates the details of a louse, but it also represents, in a more abstract sense, a particular relationship that Hooke had with the world around him. In the blurb accompanying the image, he talks excitedly about keeping the louse in a jar, and starving it so when it’s let out it’ll feast on him and he can watch it swell up like a balloon.

Not everyone thought this to be an appropriate way to relate to a louse. (It is not, after all, the kind of creature that many people celebrate. Think about the creepy tenor of John Donne’s ‘The Flea’ or, later, Robbie Burns’ outrage at watching a louse keep polite company in ‘To a Louse’). Margaret Cavendish, for example, a keen natural philosopher and the Dutchess of Newcastle, wondered what beggars would think about this drawing. A better reason to examine these critters would be to show how to avoid their bites! She thought Hooke’s morbid interest was useless at best, and drawing such beguiling pictures risked distracting people from research that was genuinely socially useful.

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

I’m interested in how new conceptions of nature and new methods of investigation became fashionable and socially popular. Why did Hooke, but not others, think it was interesting or appropriate to display a louse in this way? It’s funny now to think of this image or the microscope as controversial, but in early modern Europe it sure had it’s critics, both in popular and philosophical writing. Cavendish’s worry was, partly, the perfectly reasonable (and still current) one that educated and wealthy people could better spend their time trying to solve real problems. Considering the louse not only as a new kind of natural historical illustration but as a symbol of this disagreement makes it interesting to track the following popularity of the microscope. What did it mean that there was a fashion for them in the following century or so, and how much did their fashionability influence scientists’ opinions of the instrument?

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

Hooke also gave public lectures and demonstrated instruments in front of audiences, but there’s a sense in which the knowledge in Micrographia had to be a printed book. Hooke’s images, for all their naturalism, are not really of anything that he actually saw, or of anything directly visible through his lenses. He emphasises in the book that he drew pictures only after several examinations of an object, as he also lets on when he talks about watching the louse feed from him. He saw it in various shapes, positions, and more or less well-fed. His wizardry with lenses and light created only temporary glimpses at ever-changing objects, so image making was an essential part of knowledge making in that drafting, engraving, and printing also ‘fixes’ the knowledge into a stable form that can be returned to and re-examined.

What significance does this image have in the context of your field or work?

It shows, I think, what was essentially a new methodology in natural philosophy. Hooke loved that he could see through the louse to its insides. Several of his observations make this point, and he argued for his whole life that microscopes were the best method we had of discovering the ‘inner’ or ‘secret’ workings of things. To see inside objects without one, one would have to make incisions like an anatomist or dissolve things in acid or fire like an alchemist. With a microscope, he wrote, he could peek “through these delicate and pellucid teguments of the bodies of Insects” and, like a voyeur, watch Nature in action: “quietly peep in at the windows, without frighting her out of her usual byas” (Micrographia, observation 43). It’s an important and poetic moment in the history of natural scientific methodology. For one, it’s definitely in line with the fashion in Hooke’s time for viewing the world mechanistically, as if he would see the clockwork inside insects that made them tick. But it’s also vaguely democratic, in that doing so does not require a furnace or any other particularly spectacular equipment. It’s both a recognition that there’s more to be discovered about the world than is readily apparent, and that the method by which to do so is not hugely inaccessible.

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.

Figures in the Diary of Robert Hooke

Felicity Henderson, University of Exeter

Robert Hooke, the early Royal Society’s paid ‘curator of experiments’, kept a detailed diary about his daily life from 1672 to 1694 (though with a long break in the mid-1680s). The diary tells us a lot about Hooke’s working practices and especially his networks of contacts in London. It’s not just an interesting text, though – Hooke occasionally adds a figure amongst his cramped lines of prose. What might these sketches tell us about Hooke’s use of scientific images?

Hooke’s diary, or memoranda, were not meant for anyone other than himself and were primarily intended as a register of his daily activities – things he wanted to remember. Some of Hooke’s figures clearly support this aspect of the diary. But why include pictures as well as verbal descriptions? I think some of these figures show Hooke in the act of thinking things through, trying out new ideas or clarifying old ones. One of the simplest figures in the diary is this drawing of the sun as it rose on 15 June 1676.

Drawing of sun rising
Rising sun, 15 June 1676. London Metropolitan Archives CLC/495/MS01758. © London Metropolitan Archives (reproduced by permission).

The diary entry reads

saw ye sun Rise very ellipticall [figure inserted here] thus the vnder side much flatter then the vpper.’

The wording suggests that Hooke first thought of describing the rising sun as ‘ellipticall’. He then realised this didn’t fully express his observation and added the figure. However he still wasn’t happy, and added further explanation focussing on the disparity between the flatter underside and the rounded top of the sun. Possibly at this point he went back over his figure to emphasise the roundness of the upper curve, as this line is much stronger than the rest of the image. It seems that even this relatively straightforward figure forced Hooke to clarify his description of the sunrise.

Other figures represent much more complex ideas.

Drawing of Richard Reeve's glass furnace
Glassworking furnace, 30 March 1677. London Metropolitan Archives CLC/495/MS01758. © London Metropolitan Archives (reproduced by permission).

This is Richard Reeve’s contrivance for his cementing glasse plates in his furnace’. Reeve had succeeded his more famous father as a maker of optical instruments, and Hooke had previously visited him in February 1674, when he had watched Reeve

joyning glasse plates by grinding them together either by a square joynt [first figure] or by an oblique joynt thus. [second figure] or by an vndulated joynt thus [third figure]’.

Drawing of different methods of joining glass plates
Methods of joining glass, 23 February 1674. London Metropolitan Archives CLC/495/MS01758. © London Metropolitan Archives (reproduced by permission).

Hooke had commented in his diary at the time

I suppose the whole secret consists in the make & heating of the fornace and cooling it wch is neer a week in doing’.

The follow-up visit in 1677 thus represented an opportunity to understand more about Reeve’s ‘secret’ furnace design. The details of the sketch are linked with extensive explanatory notes keyed to letters indicating the different parts of the furnace. It’s interesting to see Hooke using this technique, standard in contemporary scientific images, in his diary. It gives this rough sketch an authority we might not have expected in the informal context of a personal document, and raises the question of what Hooke might have planned to do with the information preserved here. Was it intended to be passed on to Hooke’s philosophical associates?

Other figures in the diary document Hooke’s own inventions, among them the ‘Horizontall Sayles’ drawn in September 1674.

Drawing of Hooke's invention of 'horizontal sails'
Horizontal sails, 26 September 1674. London Metropolitan Archives CLC/495/MS01758. © London Metropolitan Archives (reproduced by permission).

Lacking the detailed annotation of the furnace image, this sketch accompanies a brief note:

Inuented ye Perfection of Horizontall Sayles. by a poysd & turning sayle see ye figure’.

We should read ‘Wind’ and ‘Water’ on the left-hand side as part of the figure: these are aspects of the system more clearly expressed in words than in the rather vague wavy and dashed lines that surround the sails.

These sketches attest to Hooke’s visual approach to the new philosophy, suggesting that thinking about things through graphical representation was something he did routinely, not just when he was explaining his ideas to others. Most of the figures in the diary act alongside words, although there are occasional examples where they replace them entirely (as, for example, tiny drawings of spectacles – quicker than writing out the word in full!). In the context of the diary, the relationship between figures and time is also significant. The diary figures are pinned to a specific date, locating them in time in a way that might have aided in any future priority disputes. But equally, Hooke was clearly not drawing them at the point of observation, discussion or invention. He wrote his diary entries after the event, and therefore the figures must represent some further thought, rather than being an immediate record (just as diary text is always composed after the fact); so we need to see these images as having been influenced by the passage of time.

These are just a few of the figures in Hooke’s diary, but they help us to see how he approached the problem of describing and recording observations and inventions in a private context.