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Experiment, Theory, Representation: Robert Hooke’s Material Models

Hunter, Matthew C. (2010) Experiment, Theory, Representation: Robert Hooke’s Material Models. In: Beyond Mimesis and Convention: Representation in Art and Science. Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science. No.262. Springer , Dordrecht, pp. 193-219. ISBN 978-90-481-3850-0.

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Robert Hooke’s Micrographia of 1665 is an epochal work in the history of scientific representation. With microscopes and other optical devices, Hooke drew and then oversaw the engraving of Micrographia’s plates, images that amount to little less than revelations from beneath the range of human vision (Fig. 1). In bristling detail, molds flower into putrid bloom, crystals protrude like warts from mineral skins and, for the first time in history, cells are brought to the eyes of a general viewership. So historical scholarship has shown us, Hooke was especially well equipped to make these wondrous images. A product of Oxford’s lively scientific community of the 1650s and a protégé of the chemist Robert Boyle, he possessed intimate knowledge of the “new sciences” of the seventeenth century and a particular gift as an experimentalist. Indeed, from 1662 until nearly the end of his life, Hooke held the post of “Curator of Experiments” to England’s premier scientific institution, the then newly-formed Royal Society of London. But, Hooke also had an additional advantage. Following some remarkable, juvenile feats of drawing, he had previously been apprenticed to Peter Lely, leading portrait painter of later seventeenth century England. Combining scientific training with tutelage in the art of portraiture—that most detail-attentive of pictorial genres (at least as practiced in seventeenth century England)—Hooke would seem to have commanded the ideal skills for rendering the sights made perceptible through microscopes. Not surprisingly, Hooke’s Micrographia has served as an important point of reference in recent studies of the interactions of art and science.

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Additional Information:© 2010 Springer Science+Business Media B.V. Thanks to Moti Feingold, Tarja Knuuttila and, especially, to Roman Frigg for comments on previous drafts of this essay.
Series Name:Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science
Issue or Number:262
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20110501-112103403
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:23510
Deposited By: Dr Matthew C Hunter
Deposited On:02 May 2011 16:35
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 02:47

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