Exhibition | Pierre Varignon (1654–1722)

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on March 9, 2023

Now on view at the Mazarin Library in Paris:

Pierre Varignon (1654–1722): Pratique et transmission des mathématiques à l’aube des Lumières
Bibliothèque Mazarine, Paris, 18 January — 15 April 2023

Curated by Sandra Bella, Jeanne Peiffer, and Patrick Latour

La carrière de Pierre Varignon, né à Caen en 1654 et mort à Paris en 1722, s’articule essentiellement autour de ses activités d’enseignant et d’académicien. Titulaire de la première chaire de mathématiques de l’Université de Paris, établie au Collège Mazarin dès l’ouverture de celui-ci en 1688, il fut aussi lecteur au Collège royal à partir de 1706, et contribua ainsi à la formation de nombreux savants et ingénieurs. L’Académie des sciences, dont il devint membre en novembre 1688 et au sein de laquelle il joua un rôle important, lui procura par ailleurs un cadre privilégié pour ses recherches, en facilitant leur diffusion à travers les périodiques académiques (Mémoires de l’Académie royale des sciences et Journal des savants).

En tant que géomètre, Varignon a su reconnaître le pouvoir d’innovation de l’analyse leibnizienne, dont il fut en France l’un des premiers défenseurs. Mais son activité scientifique se déploie sur de plus amples territoires. Sa carrière est encadrée par deux ouvrages, le Projet d’une nouvelle mechanique, qui lui ouvre en 1687 les portes du monde savant, et la Nouvelle mecanique ou statique, publiée de manière posthume en 1725. De fait ses apports à la mécanique sont aussi décisifs que variés, tant dans ses aspects théoriques (transposition en termes analytiques leibniziens des lois de la dynamique newtonienne, unification de la statique, travaux sur les forces centrales…) que dans ses applications pratiques.

Savant presque « ordinaire » à l’aube des Lumières, sans laisser d’œuvre aussi conséquente que certains de ses contemporains et correspondants européens comme Leibniz (1646–1716), Newton (1643–1727) ou encore les frères Jacques (1654–1705) et Jean (1667–1748) Bernoulli, Varignon contribue néanmoins, par son enseignement et ses travaux, à la constitution d’une tradition d’application des mathématiques et au développement de la mécanique analytique.

Sandra Bella (Université Paris Cité, Laboratoire SPHere)
Jeanne Peiffer (Centre Alexandre Koyré)
Patrick Latour (Bibliothèque Mazarine)

Exhibition | Crafting Worldviews: Art and Science in Europe, 1500–1800

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on March 9, 2023

Set of 24 Microscope Slides (signed: “AYpelaar & comp”), Netherlands, ca. 1808–11, brass, glass, ivory, mahogany, natural specimens, and a handwritten inscription in brown ink (Yale Peabody Museum, The Lentz Collection).

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From the press release for the exhibition:

Crafting Worldviews: Art and Science in Europe, 1500–1800
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 17 February — 25 June 2023

Organized by Jessie Park and Paola Bertucci

The Yale University Art Gallery presents Crafting Worldviews: Art and Science in Europe, 1500–1800, an exhibition that showcases nearly 100 objects from across Yale University’s collections, including the Gallery, the Yale Peabody Museum, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library, the Yale Center for British Art, and the Lewis Walpole Library, as well as the collection of Thomas Lentz, Professor Emeritus of Cell Biology at the Yale University School of Medicine. Co-organized by Jessie Park, the Nina and Lee Griggs Assistant Curator of European Art, and Paola Bertucci, Associate Professor, History of Science and Medicine Program at Yale University and Curator of the History of Science and Technology Division, Yale Peabody Museum, Crafting Worldviews examines the inseparable relationship among art, science, and European colonialism from the 16th through the 18th century—an era of voyage, trade, and Europe’s territorial dominance on a global scale. The objects included reveal histories of invention and appropriation, consumption and exploitation, collaboration and conflict.

The works featured in this multidisciplinary exhibition cross the modern-day boundaries of art and science and range from the everyday, such as books, maps, globes, drafting tools, microscopes, playing cards, and sundials, to the more unusual, such as a hand-cranked model of the solar system, an automaton clock, and anatomical figures. Crafted from both locally and globally obtained materials, including brass, ivory, mahogany, and ebony, these objects are remarkable not just for their exquisite design but also their intricate construction. Together, they illuminate the role that art and science have played in shaping Europeans’ understanding of the world and their place within it.

Pocket Globe with a Case (signed: “LANE’s Improved GLOBE | London”), England, ca. 1783–1803, hand-colored gores and steel; case: shagreen and brass (The Lentz Collection, on loan to the Yale Peabody Museum).

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The exhibition also addresses the intellectual, artistic, and scientific foundations of European colonialism, whose legacy continues in the present. According to Jessie Park, “In our current age of reckoning with racism and exploitation, we found it imperative to call our attention to the foundations of such forms of injustice. Visitors will encounter not only objects of noteworthy craftsmanship but also the realities of their production and consumption in the era of colonialism, which laid the groundwork for ongoing discrimination.”

Paola Bertucci notes that, for her, the exhibition “is a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to display scientific instruments to tell stories that we don’t typically associate with science. Early modern scientific instruments are usually presented in art museums as intriguing marvels. I was eager to emphasize instead the role of these objects in shaping European taste, everyday life, and a sense of superiority toward other cultures.”

Portable Sundial with a Compass (signed: “Butterfield AParis”), France, ca. 1690, silver, glass, and blued steel (The Lentz Collection, on loan to the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History).

The exhibition is thematically divided into six sections. Serving as an introduction to the exhibition, “Voyages of Conquest” details the colonization of new lands through oceanic navigation, foregrounding objects such as the sextant, octant, compass, and theodolite as tools of power and dominance. Building on this introductory section is “Workshops of Power,” which explores how colonialism impacted and shaped the manufacture of both scientific instruments and everyday items made by skilled artisans. “Clockwork Cosmologies” features a variety of geared mechanisms—real and imagined—such as watches, astrolabes, and mills, to examine the ways in which Europeans visualized an orderly universe, measured time, or promoted colonial projects. “Consuming Science,” which presents the role of science in the education and social life of the elites, includes objects like tobacco pipes, shagreen-covered microscopes, and electrical machines made of mahogany. “Bodies of Nature” showcases anatomical illustrations, books on natural history, and other objects to address how scholars regarded scientific research as a hunt for the secrets of nature. Finally, “Worlds Seen and Unseen” examines the ways in which contemporary stereotypes about non-European worlds were articulated in portrayals of nature and people from Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

To assist the co-curators in sensitively addressing the topics presented in the exhibition, the Gallery formed an advisory committee. Members included Salwa Abdussabur (Founder and Creative Director, Black Haven), Marisa Bass (Professor, History of Art, Yale University), Adrienne L. Childs (Adjunct Curator at the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., and independent scholar), Meleko Mokgosi (Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Painting/Printmaking, Yale School of Art), Ayesha Ramachandran (Associate Professor, Comparative Literature, Yale University), Romita Ray (Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, History of Architecture, Syracuse University), and Carolyn Roberts (Assistant Professor, History of Science and History of Medicine, and African American Studies, Yale University). Their insights were crucial for shaping this project.

New Book | Birth Figures

Posted in books by Editor on March 9, 2023

From The University of Chicago Press:

Rebecca Whiteley, Birth Figures: Early Modern Prints and the Pregnant Body (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2023), 312 pages, ISBN: 978-0226823126, $49.

book coverThe first full study of ‘birth figures’ and their place in early modern knowledge-making.

Birth figures are printed images of the pregnant womb, always shown in series, that depict the variety of ways in which a fetus can present for birth. Historian Rebecca Whiteley coined the term and here offers the first systematic analysis of the images’ creation, use, and impact. Whiteley reveals their origins in ancient medicine and explores their inclusion in many medieval gynecological manuscripts, focusing on their explosion in printed midwifery and surgical books in Western Europe from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-eighteenth century. During this period, birth figures formed a key part of the visual culture of medicine and midwifery and were widely produced. They reflected and shaped how the pregnant body was known and treated. And by providing crucial bodily knowledge to midwives and surgeons, birth figures were also deeply entangled with wider cultural preoccupations with generation and creativity, female power and agency, knowledge and its dissemination, and even the condition of the human in the universe. Birth Figures studies how different kinds of people understood childbirth and engaged with midwifery manuals, from learned physicians to midwives to illiterate listeners. Rich and detailed, this vital history reveals the importance of birth figures in how midwifery was practiced and in how people, both medical professionals and lay readers, envisioned and understood the mysterious state of pregnancy.

Rebecca Whiteley is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London.


List of Illustrations
A Note on Terminology

Introduction: Picture Pregnancy

Part I: Early Printed Birth Figures, 1540–1672
1  Using Images in Midwifery Practice
2  Pluralistic Images and the Early Modern Body

Part II: Birth Figures as Agents of Change, 1672–1751
3  Visual Experiments
4  Visualizing Touch and Defining a Professional Persona

Part III: The Birth Figure Persists, 1751–1774
5  Challenging the Hunterian Hegemony


Color Plates

New Book | Phenomena: Doppelmayr’s Celestial Atlas

Posted in books by Editor on March 9, 2023

From The University of Chicago Press:

Giles Sparrow, with a foreword by Martin Rees, Phenomena: Doppelmayr’s Celestial Atlas (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2022), 256 pages, ISBN: 978-0226824116, $65.

Lavishly illustrated volume revealing the intricacies of a 1742 map of the cosmos.

The expansive and intricate Atlas Coelestis, created by Johann Doppelmayr in 1742, set out to record everything known about astronomy at the time, covering constellations, planets, moons, comets, and more, all rendered in exquisite detail. Through stunning illustrations, historical notes, and scientific explanations, Phenomena contextualizes Doppelmayr’s atlas and creates a spectacular handbook to the heavens.

Phenomena begins by introducing Doppelmayr’s life and work, placing his extraordinary cosmic atlas in the context of discoveries made in the Renaissance and Enlightenment and highlighting the significance of its publication. This oversized book presents thirty beautifully illustrated and richly annotated plates, covering all the fundamentals of astronomy—from the dimensions of the solar system to the phases of the moon and the courses of comets. Each plate is accompanied by expert analysis from astronomer Giles Sparrow, who deftly presents Doppelmayr’s references and cosmological work to a modern audience. Each plate is carefully deconstructed, isolating key stars, planets, orbits, and moons for in-depth exploration. A conclusion reflects on the development of astronomy since the publication of the Atlas and traces the course of the science up to the present day. Following the conclusion is a timeline of key discoveries from ancient times onward along with short biographies of the key players in this history.

Giles Sparrow is an author, editor, and consultant specializing in popular science, astronomy, and space technology. His books include The Stargazer’s Handbook, Physics in Minutes: 200 Key Concepts Explained in an Instant and The Cosmic Gallery: The Most Beautiful Images of the Universe.


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