An Image Interview with Frances Willmoth, Part II

© Royal Society Picture Library 11405

This is a second blog which was written by the historian of science, Dr Frances Willmoth, who died on 2 December 2017. The first blog can be found here.

A Portrait of Jonas Moore

Dr Willmoth was archivist at Jesus College, Cambridge, and affiliated to the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge, where she wrote a PhD dissertation on Sir Jonas Moore, the patron of John Flamsteed (1646-1719), the first Astronomer Royal. This was published as Sir Jonas Moore: Practical Mathematics and Restoration Science (Boydell & Brewer, Woodbridge, 1993). She also co-edited with Elizabeth Stazicker a facsimile edition of his magnificent 1658 Mapp of the Great Levell of the Fenns (Cambridgeshire Record Society, 2016).

Which picture have you chosen, and what does it show?
This is the frontispiece portrait from Moore’s Arithmetick, published in 1650. It shows the man himself, looking rather debonair, accompanied by various trappings that symbolise his identity as a mathematician and learned man. According to the caption at the foot, the engraving was produced in 1649, when the subject was in his 35th year (he was actually 31).

© Royal Society
Jonas Moore (1618-1679), mathematician and patron of science. Royal Society Picture Library image ref. 11405

Why have you chosen this image?
There are two known portraits of Moore, both in book frontispieces, and this is the earlier and more interesting one. The other comes from the 1660 second edition of the Arithmetick and simply shows an older and stouter man in plain garb. In 1649-50 Moore was at an early stage of trying to get established in a mathematical career, whereas by 1660 he was better known as a mathematician and surveyor and may have been keener to be portrayed as a successful gentleman rather than as a mathematician.

How does this image resonate with you in the context of your work or research?
The image ought to resonate with anyone who has had to carve out a career for themselves from relatively humble beginnings or in unpredictable times. Moore was the son of a Lancashire yeoman farmer. He was well enough educated to secure a clerkship in the ecclesiastical courts of Durham, but was then thrown on his own resources when the courts were abolished in 1642. He claimed he started some serious study of mathematics in 1640; he re-emerges into public view in 1646 as a disciple of the leading mathematician William Oughtred. We don’t know what he did during the intervening Civil War period. In 1647 he was appointed maths tutor to the young Prince James, Duke of York; this was while the younger children of the ill-fated Charles I were in the custody of Parliament, and was a short episode of just a few months.
It sounds as though at some stages Moore found it a struggle to make a decent livelihood as a mathematical teacher and practitioner. From 1650, however, it was a different story: he secured a well-paid appointment as Surveyor to the company draining the Great Level of the Fens, and lived and worked in that region until 1657 or 1658. One may guess that the publication of the 1650 Arithmetick was a factor that helped impress his employers when he applied for the job.

Do you know anything about the making process of the image? Does knowing how the image was created affect your understanding of the image?
The copy of the frontispiece in the RS Library has been trimmed down to the extent that it no longer shows the makers’ names. But other copies bear the legend “H. Stone Pinxit, T. Cross sculpsit”. Henry Stone (b. 1616) was not in the first rank of British portrait-painters, and no such painted portrait of Moore is known to survive. Thomas Cross (active 1644-82) has been described as “a prolific but only moderately competent workman … [with] a habit of repeating standard motifs”. This second state of the plate includes two bookshelves similar to those that appear in several other Cross frontispieces, whereas in the first state this background area is blank. The round objects on the table were probably intended to be understood as mirrors (not as globes), an author’s books conventionally being described as “the Mirrour of his minde”. Hence these are the mirror of arithmetic and mirror of geometry.

What significance does the image have for the historical understanding of the relationship between knowledge-making and image-making?
Moore’s 1650 Arithmetick is quite a substantial volume, which could genuinely help a reader to improve their knowledge of the subject. But the frontispiece image highlights how the volume was also a piece of advertising demonstrating the competence and skills of its author. In the Preface he also took the opportunity to boast that he had books in hand on a number of other mathematical subjects, if he received sufficient encouragement to publish them. Most of these never in fact materialised, though he did go on to publish some later books: the second edition Arithmetick (1660), A Mathematical Compendium (edited by Nicholas Stephenson, 1674 and later editions) and posthumously A New Systeme of the Mathematicks (1681). In the last few years of his life he played a leading role in the founding of the new Royal Observatory at Greenwich, and sponsored engravings of the new institution drawn by Robert Thacker and engraved by Francis Place.

There will be a meeting to remember Frances on Tuesday 26 June, from 3 – 5:30, at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Free School Lane, Cambridge. Please sign up here, if you are interested:

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).

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.