The following example of Great Obviousness comes from one of the great masters of perspective on the Continent, Jan Vredeman de Vries, (architect, engineer and man with a vision), and appear in his work Variae Architecturae Formae, and published in 1601. (The whole of the book is available at the Internet Archive, here.)
It would be interesting to know the history of this tree and its obvious salvation--it doesn't seem to be older than the street or the buildings, yet, there it is, a tree the diameter of an adult waist in the middle of a very populated street
Below you can see the detail of the man at the middle right--he is absolutely pointing to teh tree, perhaps sharing his amazement with the man and child coming down the street. The pointer had been seated, probably, on the bench behind the bar that was in front of the bar/saloon/draughthouse that he was probably inside of, perhaps enjoying a pint of five, perhaps making the tree even more amusing than it was. (The tilted stein is clearly visible advertising a place for thirsts to stop.) The child is reacting to something, and even so the dogs--the second of which seems to be stopped mid-stride in amazement.
Another exzmple of the unexpected tree comes later in the same book, when we see one tree in th emiddle of a plan garden and the other growing on top of what might be an herbarium. (On closer inspection the figure at lower right is a woman collectig some water in a jug; without magnification the seen looks a little more sinister than it is.)
I am hardly an historian of the theatre (and having said that will give me a chance to make some mistakes in what I am about to say) but so many of the stage designs of Giacomo Torelli look to be concentrated at an infinite horizon that I wanted to collect a few of them in one place. Torelli (1608-1678) was an artist and artistic-technician who brought engineering skills to the stage, and was evidently a much-sought-after designer, given his very special
[Image source: WIki, here.] Set design for Act 5 of Pierre Corneille's Andromède as first performed on 1 February 1650 by the Troupe Royale at the Petit-Bourbon in Paris.]
I do have to say that the Torelli puts me in mind of the perspective king of 17th c Continental architecture, Vriedman de Vries (1527 – c. 1607), especially with the columns (from his Architectura, 1633):
talents and innovations. He was absolutely interested in one-point perspective and the techniques used to gather the audience's vision and suck it all into the low-center of the back of the stage, giving the production a fabulous quality of depth and distance. (He also provided the ingenuity and gearwork for quick changes of massive scenery by one stagehand, working under the stage with pulleys and winches, hauling large elements on and off stage during a performance. His work can be seen in the iconic Encyclopedie of Denis Diderot in a section for "Machines du theatre" in 1772.)
The other thing that strikes me immediately with these images is their absolute usefulness in toy paper theatre. By making eight copies of the first image (above) and by cutting out each seven layers of columns (the opening space between the two sides becoming progressively smaller), and then the last and eight level of the mansion in the background and then standing them up and placing them all-in-a-row with an inch between them (accordion style), one could make a lovely 3-dimensional miniature stage. (Scene changes would be an entirely different matter.)
[Source: Publishing.cdlib.org, Operain Seventeenth Century Venice, the Creation of a Genre, by Ellen Rosand.]
[Francesco Buti/Isaac de Benserade, "Les Noces de Pelée et de Thetis"; Source: Oesterreichisches Theatre Museum, here]
1. Bryan, Michael| (1889). Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, Biographical and Critical. Volume II : L-Z,
new edition, revised and enlarged, edited by Walter Armstrong &
Robert Edmund Graves. Covent Garden, London: George Bell and Sons
JF Ptak Science Books Post 1282--continued, & now with the Full Text book!
[Earlier in this blog, about 1200 posts ago, a million words ago, I wrote about an extraordinary book by an aesthetician named Emily Vanderpoel. It is "extraordinary" in a narrower sense, and that "extraordinary" might not actually be positive for its original intent. The extra-intent of the book, what has come out of it for me, was something that was unintentionally accomplished by the author. The images that she used to illustrate her color theory ideas--the basis of which are not really comprehensible to me--turn out to be artwork in themselves, a found art, the artistry of the images taking over the original intention for the arrangement of their color. I've found the book now at the Internet Archive in all of its glory, and downloaded only 150 times. I'm still at a loss to know why this work hasn't received more attention
The idea of how we put parameters to something like the visual field is a gargantuan topic—it is something that architects and geometers and physicists and mathematicians (in general) have dealt with forever.
The full text is available HERE via Internet Archive. Mapmakers have perhaps the most visualized aspect of this on paper, performing the semi-miracle of translating three dimensions into two; physicists have a more difficult time, taking the opposite approach, sort of , and translating two or three dimensional space into x-number of dimensions. Anatomists had a difficult time of their subject until relatively recently in human history, what with the sublime religious curfews on messy knowledge and all coming into play, poking around into the heart and such as though it was an affront to the sanctity of the creator (M Servetus’ ideas on the circulation of the blood via the heart, making the heart a tool and not the brain or some odd conjunction of creative divine power, cost him his life, burning slowly alive at the stake…how mysterious the whole world of RNA Genotype-Phenotype Mapping and such would seem to him if he could have a peek into the future/present from wherever he is.) Color theory is old and pretty—as a matter of fact there is a very attractive gathering of color theory models (in black and white, though) displaying some two dozen or more color models from the last 400 years. People like Della Porta (1593), our old friend and resident oddball polymath crank Kircher (1646), the smarter-than-you-could-imagine Newton (1660), Waller (1686), Lambert (1772), the wide ranging and again polymathic Goethe (1792), Herschel (1817, who also ushered in our understanding of the other light-sensitive shape spacing medium of photography in 1840), the semi-forgotten Chevreul (1835), the beautiful Maxwell (1857), Wundt (1874, the early experimental psychologist who also looked for spirits/spiritmus and ghosts), von Bezold (1878), Rood (1879), Munsell (1918) Kandinsky (1914 and not decipherable by me) and Klee (1924), and so on towards the present, all tried to analyze the prospects of color.
Not in this list is the very highly problematic Emily Vanderpoel, who in 1901 and 1903 produced (in two editions) a lovely but mysterious book called Color Problems for the Layman, in which she sought not so much to analyze the components of color itself, but rather to quantify the overall interpretative effect of color on the imagination. I know this sounds begging and vague, but I really haven’t been able to make much headway in the work.
I’m attracted to this effort because of its attempt at quantifying such abstract thoughts.
By virtue of this effort, though, Vanderpoel had produced a strikingly illustrated book, with 118 color plates, all very intense, and beautiful, and in its way exceptional—unique for it time perhaps. Had the book been written thirty years or so hence we’d call it some sort of constructivist/constructionist artform. But since the artwork in the book comes a decade before the first non-representational artwork in human history (or so), I don’t know exactly what to call it. I really don’t know what it is, but I know that it is not entirely accidental, this pre-non-representational artform, because controlled geometrical color art is not accidental.
In trying to quantify the color images of the objects in her study, Vanderpoel establishes a 10x10 square grid, dividing all of the color in that object into individual units numbering to 100. Then, somehow, she identifies the major colors and places them according to a system that I cannot understand within the grid.
The net effect is glorious. I just don’t know how she got there—which isn’t normally a consideration in art, except that this work is an instructional on how to understand color in art and nature, and the explanation of the procedure is ethereal. Vanderpoel was and remains a respected author on porcelains and other applied and plastic arts. In this work she looked at her fair share of porcelain, limogues, clay pots, burial urns, glass shards, and the like; she also analyzed clouds, mummy cloths (and casings), dew on morning grass, brocade, the eye of a blue jay, feathers, and another hundred or so poetic arragenments of the stuff of teh world. I still do not know what this book is trying to tell me, but I do know that it is remarkable.
I cannot think of another illustration by a scientist or philosopher who attempts to explain their own, literal, view of the world and then offer what this looks like to the reader from inside his own head, looking out through his own eye. That's exactly what Ernst Mach is doing right here on page 15 of his influential book Die Analyse der Empfindungen, the fourth German edition ("The Analysis of Sensations and the Relation of the Physical to the Psychical", published in Jena in 1903).
There is nothing in this world for Mach that is not admissible to the human brain that is not empirically verifiable--that is, the world is nothing but awash in sensation and that sensation itself forms part of the experience of, well, experience. I've actually never been interested in the philosophy of science, and this is one of the reasons why. Nevertheless I boldly break through my own prejudices to enjoy this phenomenally original image, drawn from the inside of Mach's working mind, looking out through his eye socket, over his mustache, under his eyebrow, around his nose, out across his body and then leaping into the rest of the world. I think he does make his point about the essential.
Another interesting perspective is achieved by the one-and-only Fritz Kahn in 1926 with his imagery of viewing the world from deep within a human nostril.
This is a different sort of interpretation (from his Das Leben des Menschen/"The Life of Man", printed in Stuttgart in 1931, volume 5) from the Machian view, Dr. Kahn's (1888-1968, a gynecologist and a reknowned popular science communicator) being more of a landscape with the solar apogee of the nostril opening to the outside world.
ANd similar in a way to the Mach's internal view of the outside world is this classic Saul Steinberg New Yorker cartoon of the world view of the New Yorker (and of course this includes only Manhattan). I know some number of people who have transposed their bodies much like Herr Mach into the Steinberg map--except that their worldview ends basically at the Hudson River (Mach's feet) with the rest of the world being the sliver out there beyond the river (Mach's window) until you go 359 degrees around the world to get back to the East River (and back inside Mach's noggin). It is an unusual world view to have, but someone has to have it so that we can at least identify it so.
The 1895/1896 issues of Nature magazine are compliantly normal until the first weeks of
1896 when the first of a flood of articles is published about the astonishing discovery of 50-year-old Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen. The English-language popular science journal announcement of his December 28, 1895 “Ueber eine neue Art von Strahlen" ("On a New Type of Ray"), appeared on 16 January 1896, and began the introduction of a new state of human experience. Roentgen's experiments—built upon the work of J. Plucker (1801-1868), J. W. Hittorf (1824-1914), C. F. Varley (1828-1883), E. Goldstein (1850-1931), Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), H. Hertz (1857-1894) and the odious Phil Lenard (1862-1947)—revealed as much to humans as did the experiments and inventions of Hooke and Leeuwenhoek on the invisible worlds revealed by the microscope. There are more than 150 articles on the Roentgen (and soon to be “X-“) Ray, all published within 12 months of the original announcement, almost all excitedly, trying to comprehend, elucidate, expand, verify, this new world.
[The news of the discovery is first and most popularly reported in the January 6, 1896 London Standard: “The noise of war's alarm should not distract attention from the marvelous triumph of science which is reported from Vienna. It is announced that Professor Routgen (sic) of the Wurzburg University has discovered a light which for the purpose of photography will penetrate wood, flesh, cloth, and most other organic substances. The Professor has succeeded in photographing metal weights which were in a closed wooden case, also a man's hand which showed only the bones, the flesh being invisible”. By the end of the month the news was completely absorbed, worldwide.]
I looked at the advertising in these issues (my copies of Nature for these decades generally have the original paper wrappers for the weeklies, complete with ad copy), looking for the first time that a Roentgen machine was offered for sale to the general public. As it turns out, they popped up 12 March 1896 (once), 19 March (twice), and then about once a week for the rest of the year. A little surprising, I think, a little light to my Monday-morning quarterback’s eye—I expected more; bigger, more, splashier. But the ads are small and sedate, hardly similar to the discovery they represent.
The rest of the world, the rest of the advertising world, stayed the same--the Roentgen discovery and the enormous possibilities and promises of his “new photography” lived in their own unique sphere, unencumbered by their sassy new brother. This mild response seems dimmer still when you compare it to that which greeted other (relatively) simple but still major advancements in the world of photography. Take for example Etienne Marey, who was a technoid and physician who was able to capture motion of all sorts--he was able to develop a picture so to speak of the movement of blood in the body via his instrument to calculate blood pressure, and he also created a shotgun-style camera that made the
world's first high-speed photographs of movement. And so it cane to pass that in the late 1870's and early 1880's people were instantly able to see what a horse looked like when it galloped or what the body did *exactly* when jumping over a chair. When you couple this with fourth-dimension material one wonders why it took several more decades to bump into these images in the art of 1907+.
And what indeed was normal in these pages? Magic lanterns and magi lantern slides appear
at all levels; the gorgeous Wimshurst machine gets heavily advertised; the redoubtable Negretti & Zambra advertised all manner of excellent scientific instruments (biographs, thermogrphs. Nadeer Bros. advertised a pretty standard cell, and the ancient Crossley displayed their “new” oil engines, “suitable for all classes of agricultural work”. J.H. Stewart was selling their semi-automatic electric arc lamp, while across the page was Newton & Company’s “Newtonian” arc lamps for lanterns (“self feeding and focus keeping”). Microscopes and prepared slides abound, and Thomas Bolton advertises discretely and effectively for their “living specimens for the microscope”.
The Physical Review, the American upstart in the science world advertises that its third volume was available, while its distant cousin, the Psychological Review, advertised its own third volume. Booksellers seem to take the most space, thank goodness.
There are a few medical throwbacks: Epp’s Cocaine takes out occasional tenth-page ads for their “cocoa-nib extract, tea-like” selling its ‘gentile nerve stimulant”. Right underneath is “Holloway’s Pills”, promising to cure biliousness, sick headache, indigestion, and all (?!) internal complaints. These are brilliant simple samples of the skeleton of science in world-dominant Great Britain, in a world dominated at that time by H.A, Lorentz, Ernst Mach , Roentgen, Korteweg, de Vries, Bateson, Jean-Baptiste Perrin, Pierre Curie, Zeeman, Becquerel, Joseph Thomson, Ernest Rutherford, Marconi, Ramsay, Fitzgerald. And so on.
Nothing offered for sale here offered any significant clue to the pregnant world of modernity that was nearly
there—the world would become ‘modern” almost immediately following Roentgen, with revolutionary, epochal changes in art (in non-representational form more so than Impressionism), theater, literature, music. Just about everything changed (except politics). But there is no hint to paradigm shift hidden in the ads, just as they were with the machines selling the promise of Roentgen’s “new photography. There’s something about the fine glass, superb turning of the screw, and a perfectly oiled gear though that makes this sort of perfection seem so lonely in the world of larger change. Bertha, Roentgen’s wife, sat for 15 minutes while her husband passed his rays through her hand; she ran from the room once she saw the results, revealing her very bones and no doubt a strong sense of the
fragility of life, and the strong presence of death. Many had the same reaction to the Kandinsky's
shapes and Malevich’s white circles and red rectangles and Ibsen’s drama and Einstein’s dancing dust and the rogue syncopation of jazz. It is probably a very natural reaction to try and protect established memory—but memory should be more flexible than that, I think, to keep a healthy mind.
Leonardo wrote backwards and from right to left, Benjamin Button lived backwards at the hands of Scott Fitzgerald, Rene Magritte's man in the bowler saw the back of his head, Herrimann's Ignatz the Mouse I am sure saw the back of his head looking around the world with the world's most powerful telescope, rugby passes are all done backwards, paper images of vue optiques appear backwards, lightning for all intents and purposes starts backwards from the ground up, reverse mathematics are worked from theorems to axioms, and the Chicago River (1900) was engineered to flow backwards for the foreseeable future, while the Mississippi River famously flowed backwards for just a bit in the New Madrid Earthquake of 1812.
I can only imagine what audiences must have felt when they saw the first moving pictures played backwards--seeing them played forwards was a novel-enough (and revolutionary) idea, but the simple idea of reversing the direction of the film would have proved to be equally fascinating.
Imagine the first time you witnessed a staged train wreck on film, back there in 1897, and imagine being able to see it played over and over again, until you were filled. I'm not so sure that there were even any still photographs of a train wreck as it occurred to this point, even with advances in film speed and lens, so seeing the even unfold in front of you at leisure must have been overwhelming. Now imagine these same folks seeing the event and watching the locomotives reconstitute themselves. It would have been an extraordinary event. Even observing the Etienne Marey sequences and seeing what actually happens when a person bends over to pick up a pail of water would have revealed almost as much in new detail as when Galileo was in the middle of his earliest observations.
Looking at things backwards is a good idea so far as thinking about engineering problems and of course in checking experimental results in the sciences--its not so good an idea though to change the results produced by the scientific method because they're not a good intuitive fit to expected parameters.
Such was the cased with the first (and successful) employment of a computer to predict the outcome of a presidential election. THe computer was the UNIVAC (the world's first commercial computer and a blazingly fast machine at 10k operations a second, nearly six orders of magnitude lower than "superfast" by contemporary standards), which was brought in by Remington Rand to CBS News to crunch the numbers on the tight race between General Dwight Eisenhower and Gov. Adlai Stevenson (II) on 4 November 1952. (Stevenson was the son of a former U.S. Vice President and would run again against Eisenhower in 1956.) Pioneers Pres Eckert and John Mauchley, along with Max Woodbury (and programmer Harold Sweeney, who is seated at the UNIVAC's control panel and who seems never to be mentioned in the iconic photo at top, with Eckert at center and anchorman Walter Cronkite at left). CBS News Chief Sig Mickelson and Cronkite were not comfortable with the proposal, but ran with it anyway, sensing a moment of the-future-is-now.
The Eisenhower/Stevenson race was seen by the large majority of pundits to be too close to call, so when the UNIVAC's results pointed to a landslide for Eisenhower (438 electoral votes and 43 states to Stevenson with 93 electoral votes and 5 states) folks got very sweaty and nervous, not trusting the outcome. As this was still a very early age in human-machine interaction, and the computed results fell far away from perception and expected response, changes were made in the UNIVAC's programming to determine a more "reasonable" response by the machine, the new results making the race very tight and fitting human expectations and giving Eisenhower a very slim margin of victory. As poll results started to sweep in an hour or so later indicating that Eisenhower was showing with a huge victory, the UNIVAC was again reprogrammed and at about midnight the announcement was made that the UNIVAC had indeed been correct in the first place. The final results were 442 electoral votes for Eisenhower and 89 for Stevenson. In the next presidential election in 1956 the three networks all had computers working for them--with them--and a different perception had been formed on working with computers.
This print has been hanging here and there at home for many years--it has always been amusing, and somehow warming.
"A _M of A, and Dealer in Curiosities" was "published as the act directs 30 July 1839", is an etchign which depicts,
I guess, a lettered/educated man who winds up as a seller of scientific and intellectual bric-a-brac and interesting bits, perhaps wonderful natural history/physics materials, perhaps trivialities. He seems satisfied to me, regardless of the little man over his shoulder making a face, a reminder perhaps to not take the curiosities too seriously. [There's also another face off to the right, peering into the image (see below).]
The Record of Arts & Science that our dealer is reading has some interesting parts to it:, including something on new mechanical flight and a new diving bell--it would've been more interesting historically if it had mentioned the brand-new Daguerre invention.
This is a simple tally of American patent numbers and the years in which they appeared. I've found this list handy from time to time and thought to repost it here. It is a lot easier to have this series posted here than have to wrangle he data out of the occasionally labyrinthine U.S.P.T.O.:
I cannot think of another illustration by a scientist or philosopher who attempts to explain their own, literal, view of the world and then offer what this looks like to the reader from inside his own head, looking out through his own eye. That's exactly what Ernst Mach is doing right here on page 15 of his influential book Die Analyse der Empfindungen, the fourth German edition ("The Analysis of Sensations and the Relation of the Physical to the Pyschical", published in Jena in 1903).
There is nothing in this world for Mach that is not admissible to the human brain that is not empirically verifiable--that is, the world is nothing but awash in sensation and that sensation itself forms part of the experience of, well, experience. I've actually never been interested in the philosophy of science, and this is one of the reasons why. Nevertheless I boldly break through my own prejudices to enjoy this phenomenally original image, drawn from the inside of Mach's working mind, looking out through his eye socket, over his mustache, under his eyebrow, around his nose, out across his body and then leaping into the rest of the world. I think he does make his point about the essential
nature of the observer. And much like the classic Steinberg New Yorker cartoon of the world view of the New Yorker (of course this includes only Manhattan), I know some number of people who have transposed their bodies much like Herr Mach into the Steinberg map--except that their worldview ends basically at the Hudson River (Mach's feet) with the rest of the world being the sliver out there beyond the river (Mach's window) until you go 359 degrees around the world to get back to the East River (and back inside Mach's noggin). It is an unusual world view to have, but someone has to have it so that we can at least identify it so.
I just like the picture.
(Section 10, describing this image, with translation by C M Williams and Sydney Waterlow from the blessed Dover people in 1959):
"The considerations just advanced, expressed as they have been in an abstract form, will gain in strength and vividness if we consider the concrete facts from which they flow. Thus, I lie upon my sofa. If I close my right eye, the picture represented in the accompanying cut is presented to my left eye In a frame formed by the ridge of my eyebrow, by my nose, and by my moustache, appears a part of my body, so far as visible, with
its environment. My body differs from other human bodies - beyond the fact that every intense motor idea is immediately expressed by a movement of it, and that, if it is touched, more striking changes are determined than if other bodies are touched - by the circumstance, that it is only seen piecemeal, and, especially, is seen without a head. If I observe an element A within my field of vision, and investigate its connexion with another element B within the same field, I step out of the domain of physics into that of physiology or psychology, provided B, to use the apposite expression of a friend of mine made upon seeing this drawing, passes through my skin. Reflexions like that for the field of vision may be made with regard to the province of touch and the perceptual domains of the other senses."
I've been involved in this blog at retrieving and tabulating antique images that look straight down on something. Today I imagine that we all take these sorts of views for granted, what with satellite images and Google Earth and airplanes and all. But in the pre-heavier-than-air era, seeing a published image that looked straight down from a height was quite rare. (And it needs to be strait down, not a bird's-eye view. Things are very different between looking obliquely from an airplane window onto a cityscape than skydiving directly down on top of it.)
Benjamin Franklin had long been thinking about waterspouts, going back at least to the early 1750's, though he did not have an article about them in print until the appearance of "Physical and Meteorological Observations: Conjectures and Suppositions" in the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions, LV (1765). The first image that I've been able to find of the waterspout occurs in 1774, though a prettier version of it is reworked a little, but with sharper delineations, in 1818:
Here's the full image (with a magic square that related to another article in the volume):
This is a continuation of sort of this morning's post, "Massive 500-Daguerreotype Mosaic", though this one concentrates on the sumptuous ruination and decay that has occurred within and to some of these photographic images. I've looked closely at only five of these images, and within each of these five images there are five more. And, if you manipulated the largest downloadable file of these (which range up to about 150 megs), there are five more within the five within the five. And all that before you start to imagine the artistic fantasies int he non-representational forms, and that before adding color. So five is all that will be here, for the present.
DISCOURSE ON THE METHOD OF RIGHTLY CONDUCTING THE REASON, AND SEEKING TRUTH IN THE SCIENCES by Rene Descarte.
Descartes contributed a towering amount in the history of science and in establishing modern Western philosophy, all accomplished in a relatively short period of time, as Descartes for all of his massive output only lived to be 54 (1596-1650)...and most of that was completed between 1630 and 1650. Twenty years. Outstanding.
René Descartes. Engraving by Jacques Lubin, after Frans Hals (via Houghton Library blog, here).
"PREFATORY NOTE BY THE AUTHOR
If this Discourse appear too long to be read at once, it may be divided into six Parts: and, in the first, will be found various considerations touching the Sciences; in the second, the principal rules of the Method which the Author has discovered, in the third, certain of the rules of Morals which he has deduced from this Method; in the fourth, the reasonings by which he establishes the existence of God and of the Human Soul, which are the foundations of his Metaphysic; in the fifth, the order of the Physical questions which he has investigated, and, in particular, the explication of the motion of the heart and of some other difficulties pertaining to Medicine, as also the difference between the soul of man and that of the brutes; and, in the last, what the Author believes to be required in order to greater advancement in the investigation of Nature than has yet been made, with the reasons that have induced him to write.
[Detail from the title page of Natural Magic, below.]
Giovani Baptista della Porta was a magus, or a natural (science)
"magician", who searched nature for similarities that would serve to build a
broad template of forced understanding of seeming likenesses, looking for the great connector
in the exceptional and the unusual, the stuff outside of the formerly
Aristotlean world. Natural Magic is his magnum opus, an expansion of its earlier
version (Magna naturalis) published in Latin in 1558, which Porta expanded to twenty sections in 1589. The 1589 edition was a maturing of the 1558 edition, toning down the philosophical/religio-mystic basis for the ordering of the natural environment with an approach more suitable to observation and experimentation. It was an encyclopedic work of vast proportions, a
gold-mine of information and clever wishfulness, and very accessible due to
Porta’s wide inter-personal travel,
very wide reading and critical abilities, clear reasoning and deep vision: the book was hugely successful, going into at
least twelve Latin, four Italian, seven French, two German, and two English
editions in the early modern era. Natural
Magic, which first appeared in English in 1658, concerned itself with
magic, alchemy, optics, geometry, cryptography, magnetism, agriculture, the art
of memory, munitions, and many other topics, all grouped together and refined,
distilled, into a cloudy assemblage of natural knowledge—it would end up that the magical
whole was worth far less than the sum of its parts.
But the parts were pretty considerable, and much of the
information was spot-on for the time, not the least of which was a very capable
demonstration and explanation of a lensed camera obscura.
What I’m interested in right now though is the title page of
the book (pictured above).
It turns out and as we can see in the top image of the
title page, Chaos is not some subspace trajectory of cellular automata, or in
Dr. Brown’s/Einstein’s dancing dust—it is right above us. This recognition of its regular, localizable structure
probably does not support parameterization, or anything else for that matter,
except to say that it is definitely “pretty”.
The title page has nine illustrated compartments: the four corners depict the four elements,
the two opposing middles show art and nature; the bottom shows the author,
illuminated by the knowing sun. The top
center image is the element showing “chaos”, which I’ve chosen to use a map,
identifying where exactly chaos might be.
I’ve not seen an antiquarian map identifying chaos, though I have seen a
number showing lots of other non-existent places, like heaven and hell and
purgatory and Eden and the Kingdom of Prester John, to name a few. But not chaos.
It is very interesting to note that while in the process of looking at nature, and observing connections real and imagined, and creating ways of organizing and storing information in the brain, Porta conceived of a telescope, and this several decades in advance of Galileo. (The idea of the telescope stretches pretty far back, though. The idea seems ancient, though the scientific thought on the matter really weren't present until the 13th century with the work of Roger Bacon and Robert Grosseteste, and then with Nicolsa of Cusa (in 1451) doing experimental work on the properties of lenses, and then on to John Dee and Thomas Digges in 1570/1. Porta seemed right about there, just ont he edge of the invention of an instrument which would have allowed him to see farther and deeper than anyone else before him, but he didn't follow through. He mentions in the 1589 edition of Magiae:
"With a Concave lens you shall see small things afar off very clearly. With a Convex lens, things nearer to be greater, but more obscurely. If you know how to fit them both together, you shall see both things afar off, and things near hand, both greater..." (Porta would expand this section of the 1589 book (section XVII) into a complete and separate work in 1593, De refractione optices.)
I do not know what happened to this idea, or why it didn't flourish in Porta's hand like it would in those of Galileo less than three decades latter.
Porta was a very nimble and penetrating man--his Magia naturalis was a dissecting tool for the complexities that he saw around him, and his later works were in some ways continuations on this theme. The first two books following Magiae were concerned with private visions of Very Large Things: the first, De furtivis literarum notis (published in 1563) was one of the earliest works on cryptology. This looking-deeper book was followed three years later in 1566 by a book on how these thoughts could be organized in the mind. Given the spirit of the times and the difficulty of actually recording what it was you saw, Porta wrote Arte del ricordare, which addressed the very idea of memory and then the more applicable bits of mnemonic devices. He looked for more hidden messages in his next work--on the physiology of hands--but it didn't see the light of publishing day until after Porta died.
Working in the areas of pharmacology, hydraulics, military engineering, physiology, and physics, among many other areas, Porta published De aeris transmutanionbus (1609) on meteorology; De distillatione (1610), on chemistry; Coelestis Physiogranonia (1603), on a sort of "writing in the sky" and both a blast and support of astrology; and De humana physiognomonia libri IIII (1586), which was a work physiognomy and discerning function from structure. There were other books, not to mention at least 17 dramatic works. Porta was basically unstoppable.
All of this takes me back to the question of wondering about his inability (?) to see the possibilities of the telescope. In all of his books on deterministic vision, and of seeing things deeply--whether it was in the sky, or in chemical experiments, or in seeing the structure of a plant incised with its function in nature, or in the complexities of memory, and so on--it is a mystery to me how he could have left the development of the telescope along.
Could we satisfy our selves in the position of the lights above, or
discover the wisdom of that order so invariably maintained in the fixed
stars of heaven......we might abate.....the strange Cryptography of
Gaffarell in his Starrie Booke of Heaven. Thomas Browne1 (1605-1682) in his major Hermetic effort, The Garden of Cyrus, or The Quincunciall Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the Ancients, naturally, artificially, mystically considered (published in 1658).
The Garden of Cyrus is a neo-Pythagorean insight weaving together all manner of visions in nature and art, and the art of nature and vice versa and so on, all tied up in universal thinking about these intersections in terms of the great quincunx patterns and the number five and it various variants in terms of latticework and the figure X.
"What is more beautiful than the
quincunx, that, from whatever direction you regard it, presents straight
lines?-- Quintillian's Institutio OratoriaVIII.3.ix
The Browne quote relate to the work of J. Gaffarel, who saw connections in art and nature quite literally in the structure of the heavens, among other places--but it is his "star-writing" that I'd like to address a bit here. His provocatively-titled Curiositez inouyes sur la sculpture talismanique des Persans, horoscope des Patriarches et lecture des estoiles ("Unheard-of Curiosities concerning Talismanical Sculpture of the Persians, the horoscope of the Patriarchs and the reading of the Stars") was published first in 1629 and then many times thereafter well into the 18th century. Garrafel (1601-1682) presented to the world a wide class of interesting subjects which had previously been thought of as being outside the normal realm of academic discussion, the subjects being mainly seen as dogmatic occultism. What Garrafel did was very interesting, writing about these areas as discussion-builders, as "curious" topics that could or should be considered to widen general inquiry. (In an interesting article, "The Use of Curiosity in Early Medieval France and Germany" the author Neil Kenny writes of Gaffarel, "Making occult knowledge into conversation rather than a dogmatic system made [his work] less likely to be universally censured")
His work definitely interesting and curious, though the use of that word didn't save him, as some of the topics were verbotten--certainly Gaffarel
was aware of this, and he tried his best to write about them in a way
that the ruling intellectual powers would not find offensive, but it
didn't work, and his book was found to be abusive and was banned by the
Sorbonne. This was such an integral action that Gaffarel succumbed to
not one but two retractions.
What is of primary interest right now with Gaffarel is his interpretation of writing systems, and how frequently they seem to exist exclusive of human manufacture. It seems that a fair percentage of the time that these appearances came in the form of agate. and that these durable micro- explorations in agate go back thousands of years,
expounded by Pliny and some of the other ancients, who followed the origins of
humanity back into the rocks. This was a
popular idea for the origin of animate beings, propounding itself for centuries,
even winding up in the bony lap of Leibniz of all people, who wrote that “men
derive from animals, animals from plants, plants from fossils, which in turn
derive from bodies that the senses and imagination represent to us as being
totally dead and formless”. Stones
therefore held the seeds of the formation of the world; all things living,
breathing, and not.
Our own Athanasius Kircher, the definition of polymathic ability and
superior imagination was responsible for many such observations and
discoveries. It seems to me that as much
as Kircher gave, he took away, keeping ahead of his critics and the rest of the
scientific community with tremendous output…people I think just couldn’t keep
up with him. He found all sorts of
things in stone: as early as 1619 he exhibited an image of St. Jerome (in no less a place than the cave of the Nativity
in Bethlehem!) that he found in
agate. His Mundus Subterraneus (1661)
is a home to a wide range of these
objects: quadrupeds of all shapes and descriptions, human full-length
portraits, hands with jewels, and even the Virgin Mary and child. AS spectacular as these are there is always
more: the magnificent cityscape
(reproduced here) and the sublime discoveries of a full set of the alphabet and
a series of 15 geometrical drawings, all naturally impressed in stone.
Gaffarel's principle and perhaps first-on-the-scene notion (though some of it may have appeared in Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy (first published in 1533)) was the elements of an alphabet--the Hebrew alphabet--was found not in stone, but actually written in the night sky. In the stars.
It was another sort of artificial language, an entire alphabet, though this was written in the sky; Hebrew letters transcribed in the stars, lines connecting them here and there. Replaceable letters from one point to another. The possibilities of the formation of actual words was present. This seems to have been the first time this idea appeared in print.
1. Browne's writing is both beautiful and difficult, or complex and impenetrable, as can be seen from the very opening paragraph of his work here.
That Vulcan gave arrows unto Apollo and Diana the fourth day after their Nativities, according to Gentile Theology,may passe for no blinde apprehension of the Creation of the Sunne and
Moon, in the work of the fourth day; When the diffused light contracted
into Orbes, and shooting rayes, of those Luminaries.
Plainer Descriptions there are from Pagan pens, of the creatures of the
fourth day; While the divine Philosopher unhappily omitteth the noblest part of the third; And Ovid (whom many conceive to have borrowed his description from Moses) coldly deserting the remarkable account of the text, in three words,
describeth this work of the third day; the vegetable creation, and
first ornamentall Scene of nature; the primitive food of animals, and
first story of Physick, in Dietetical conservation.
2. An interesting article in the blog 8vo appears here on Gaffarel's celestial writing.
This blog has long hosted a series of posts on "accidental" or "unintended" works of pre-modern modernist art found in displays of information and statistics in the sciences and mathematics, and even occasionally in art and design. One such work--a 1904 triumph of accidental art issuing from an usunal work on color theory--belongs to an aesthetician named Emily Vanderpoel. It is extraordinary in a narrower sense, and that extraordinary might not actually be positive for its original intent--the extra-intent of the book, what has come out of it for me, was something that was unintentionally accomplished by the author. The images that she used to illustrate her color theory ideas--the basis of which are not really omprehensible to me--turn out to be artwork in themselves, a found art, the artistry of the images taking over the original intention for the arrangement of their color. She had introduced (though to no one, not really) a concept of beautifully arranged spatial color, artwork without a subject that could be recognized as any sort of natural object--non-representational art, finding publication several years before what is seen as the first inentional attempt at that genre, by Vassily Kandinsky in 1911. (Images below.) And when one strolls through the history of scientific illustration it becomes easier and easier to find such things, fabulous precursors to non-represnetational art, and Dadism, and Cubism and Surrealism.
These elements seem to be most populous in the illustrated sections of early encyclopediae, and dictionaries, and even encyclopedic dictionaries, where a number of different elements are displayed on the same page, different and generally unrelated images on the same engraved sheet, references for articles found in different parts of the book.
Here is a good example of that, with unintentional Surrealist images found in the image refernce pages of Horace Benedict de Saussure's Voyages dans les Alpes....(published in Neuchatel in 1803):
[There are a number of other examples that I've written about on this blog: here, for example, in "On the Paper Sculpting of Nothing".]
And then there are examples like Vanderpoel, where the entire image from one sheet is the pre-modernist image in question--to my experience this is the more uncommon occurrence.
Which brings us to today's installment: the infographic displays found in Francis Walker's Statistical atlas of the United States based on the results of the ninth census 1870 with contributions from many eminent men of science and several departments of the government, which is the atlas of data to accompany the 9th Census of the United States, published in 1874. This is a beautiful work, and a pioneering challenge. Walker was one of the earliest to produce a statistical atlas, and was perhaps the earliest to display this huge and broad amount of data in so many different ways--it must have seemed a semi-miracle to see the information displayed so, like going froma black & white television to color, or color to infared, and so on. It may well have represented anentirely new way of looking at data.
The first image (above) in this post is from the illustration showing proportions of the white/non-white population, and the following image shows a detail of that, offset against Mark Rothko's 1959 Black on Maroon.
Francis Walker's statistical mapping, above, 1873; Mark Rotko,
[Black on Maroon (1959) by Mark Rothko, part of the Seagram mural series, via Tate Modern.]
The first and third images are details from this full-page illustration:
It is easy to see the similarities between the data display and the Rothko, though it would really not be within anyone's power to identify the Walker diagrams as "art" in the modern sense for another five decades. But it certainly seemed there, ready to be of influence and service, though I'm not aware offhand of artists being influence by these images as they were with, say etienne Marey's photographs. I'm not sure that these statistics images ever came into the service of art in the beginning of the modern era. And maybe that's the biggest question here.