John Finch. A Lynx with a Knife

Karin Leonhard & Elisa von Minnigerode, Universität Konstanz

John Finch is an illustrious figure not only in the history of science, medicine, and philosophy, but also in the history of art. As the brother of the natural philosopher Anne Conway and a personal acquaintance to William Harvey, Finch was a trained physician, educated in Padua and employed by the Medici family as a professor of anatomy in Pisa. In Florence he became an English resident and later took the post of an ambassador in Constantinople. Together with his lifelong companion Thomas Baines, he was named fellow of the Royal Society in 1663. Throughout his career Finch conducted anatomical demonstrations, dissections and experiments following his interests in natural philosophy and visual perception theory (e.g. the microstructure of coloured objects). Both his students and his fellow anatomists praised his analytical and motional skills, his diligence and detailed observations. Finch‘s notebooks give an account of these studies and show his penchant for art. He acted as an agent, making acquisitions for Lord Arlington, and built up a fine collection of Italian art for himself. His deep appreciation of the Florentine artist Carlo Dolci shows that he conveyed his refined observations from his anatomical and scientific research into his taste for paintings. He had his own and Baines’s portrait painted by Dolci, gave three pictures as presents to Charles II, and brought four more pictures by Dolci with him on his return to England in 1681. This presentation will give an account of Finch‘s keen interest in material microstructures and delicate taste in artistic objects. 

© Karin Leonhard
“Prudentia”, in: Andrea Alciato: Emblemata, 1550 Lyon, p. 22, © Karin Leonhard