The Moneylender and His Wife (1514) by Quentin Massys/Metsys. I recently saw this painting at the Renaissance Faces exhibition at the National Gallery. According to the Louvre website the book represents spiritual duty, and the woman is being distracted by from it by the man’s activities, which represent worldly desires. At first glance I thought it might be a book of hours, but the text is wrong, so my next guess would be a book of saints’ lives. There were quite a few paintings in the exhibition featuring readers or individuals holding books, as well as two illuminated pieces, one a miniature by Simon Marmion (I wish I could remember the names of some of the other works so I could post them). Otherwise, the exhibit was just meh. But I did some googling and ran across a book that sounds interesting, The Look of Reading: Book, Painting, Text. I’ll try to pick it up at the library tomorrow.
The UW-Madison Department of Special Collections has created what looks like a fascinating exhibit on the use of color in scientific books between the 15th and 20th centuries. It’s in conjunction with the 2008 Culture of Print in Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine conference taking place in September, but the exhibit will be open all summer. It focuses on changing color technologies and how the use of color was approached from a scientific perspective, drawing from the library’s extensive science and natural history collection. For more information visit the Special Collections website.
While doing some Google research I found a great online exhibit from the Robert C. Williams Paper Museum at Georgia Tech. It presents a detailed history of paper, from ancient China forward, with a focus on the technology of paper-making. Highly recommended; check it out.
The Winter edition of the SHARP newsletter features a review of a recent exhibit at the National Library of Medicine called Do Mandrakes Really Scream? Magic and Medicine in Harry Potter. The exhibit was designed for children and isn’t very substantive, but it does have some cool images. Overall a pretty creative way to interest kids in history and rare books. I know my ten-year-old self would have been completely enthralled, even without the Harry Potter connection.
- Mandrake from the Hortus sanitatis, Mainz, 1491, hosted by the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
I spent some time looking around the Library of Medicine’s other online exhibitions and was really intrigued by Dream Anatomy. A detailed look at anatomy texts over the centuries, it begins with an explanation of the various technologies used to reproduce anatomical images in books, a thoughtful addition that could have been easily overlooked.
The body of the exhibit covers texts from the mid 15th century up to the Visible Human project of the 1990s, analyzing the intellectual milieus in which the works were created and connecting the images to science and technology, philosophy, religion and fine art. The exhibit also discusses how the presentation of human anatomy changed over time, from fanciful, dramatic and sometimes humorous to more “scientific” and dispassionate.
- Copperplate engraving by John Browne, London, 1681. Hosted by the National Library of Medicine.
“Browne’s figures dance and posture with theatrical gestures. Here a seductive coquette flirtatiously displays her musculature.”
I was particularly interested in the page on the Modernist work of Fritz Kahn, who combined images of the organic body with those of technology. I would love to have Der Mensch als Industriepalast (Man as Industrial Palace), below, on my wall. (I think a visit to ABE is in order to get some of his books.)
- Chromolithograph by Fritz Kahn , Stuttgart, Germany, 1926. Hosted by the National Library of Medicine.
“Kahn’s modernist visualization of the digestive and respiratory system as “industrial palace,” really a chemical plant, was conceived in a period when the German chemical industry was the world’s most advanced.”
The Library has a number of other online exhibits featuring subjects like Arabic manuscripts, medical ephemera, Frankenstein, and the horse in medicine. The only real criticism I could make is that each exhibit is organized differently and some are difficult to navigate or less user-friendly than I would like. But I definitely recommend that, unless you’re quite squeamish, you check out Dream Anatomy.
I watched the lunar eclipse last night, standing in the yard with a pair of old birding binoculars. The sky clouded over completely just after the full eclipse, but I was able to see the first half of it pretty well. A telescope would have been better, but through the binoculars you can see well enough to get a nice sense of the Moon’s three dimensionality. I’ll have to remind myself to go out with the binoculars again on a clear night.
In the meantime, the Moon in antiquarian books:
- The University of Vienna offers a download of a 1515 Italian edition of Ptolemy’s treatise on astronomical mathematics, the Almagest, (The Great Book) which has two chapters on the movements of the moon and eclipses.
- An image from the Almagest hosted by the University of Minnesota:
- The Linda Hall Library has created Face of the Moon, a detailed online exhibit featuring scientific Moon images from the Renaissance through the 1970s.
- The CalTech Institute Archives has a large digital collection, including some of Galileo’s Moon images from the Sidereus Nuncius (the Sidereal Messenger) of 1610. This was first scientific work based on observations made using a telescope. Besides the Moon it includes studies of the stars and the moons of Jupiter.
- A Time Magazine article on watercolor sketches in a printer’s proof of Sidereus Nuncius which may be in Galileo’s own hand.
- Moon map by Johannes Helvius, 1647, from the digital collection of the U.S. Naval Observatory Library, which has made available a number of fantastic astronomical images: