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:

Reflections on the first Making Visible Workshop

By Sietske Fransen and Katie Reinhart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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