Volker Remmert: Iconography on Early Modern Scientific Instruments

During the Scientific Revolution, scientific instruments, such as astrolabes, air pumps, microscopes and telescopes became increasingly important for the study of nature. In the early modern period they had not yet reached the status of standardized and impersonal means to study nature. Rather, they usually were unique items, which by their function as well as their design could serve the mediation between scholars, social elites and beyond. In this context the iconography on the instruments played a crucial role. In fact a great number of early modern instruments are adorned with images, that in themselves have no relevance for the use of the instruments, as for instance the depiction of Atlas and Hercules on an astrolabe by Praetorius (1568, Dresden) or the line of tradition in astronomy and geometry on Bürgi’s astronomical clock (1591, Kassel) stretching from the church fathers to Copernicus. As of now, such imagery on instruments and its context have only sporadically been analysed. The project Iconography on early modern scientific instruments specifically analyses the imagery on the instruments. It aims for the first time at a systematic analysis of the multifaceted visual material on the instruments asking for its role in the various contexts of the adorned instruments (genesis, function, use) and its importance for setting up or supporting stories/histories of success and relevance within the emerging field of the sciences. The iconography points to quite a few significant topics as, for instance, statements of specific positions in theoretical debates (e.g. Copernican question), mediation and illustration of knowledge, in particular by picturing the usability of the instruments, or the role of instruments as patronage artefacts with specific iconographic programmes.

Dr. Remmert is a Professor of Science and Technology History, and Managing Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Science and Technology Research at the University of Wuppertal (Bergische Universität Wuppertal). He holds a PhD in History from Freiburg im Breisgau and served as an Associate Professor for History and Philosophy of Mathematics at the Department for Science Studies at Aarhus University in 2011. He is also the author of “Picturing the Scientific Revolution: Title Engravings in Early Modern Scientific Publications” (2011, Saint Josephs University Press).

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