Brown Bag Lecture: “This Is Also How We Are Accustomed to Depict the Heavens and the Four Elements”: Vesalius, the Eye, and 16th-Century Visual Culture

Lunchtime Lectures
Monday, February 12, 2018
12:00 p.m.–1:00 p.m.
Science History Institute
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
United States

Join us for a Brown Bag Lecture by Tawrin Baker, postdoctoral fellow in the visual studies program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Andreas Vesalius’s On the Fabric of the Human Body (1543) contains some of the most iconic images in the history of science and medicine, and it is a milestone in Renaissance visual culture generally. Despite the large body of scholarly work on Vesalius, we still don’t know precisely what his images meant in their context—what Vesalius’s pictures were doing, what they were for.

His set of figures in the section on the anatomy of the eye has been largely overlooked. The history of 16th-century visualizations of the eye, however, is unique. It is, in part, a history of the intertwining of the disciplines of anatomy, medicine, natural philosophy, and mathematical optics. Although each of the above sciences dealt with the nature of vision and the eye, at the beginning of the century members within each group rarely interacted across disciplinary lines, and the texts they produced focused narrowly on their own questions, controversies, and authorities. The images of the eye that increasingly populated their books, however, were more promiscuous. 

This talk first traces the visualization of the eye in the transition from manuscript to print, along with printed images of the eye and related images (particularly diagrams of the cosmos) leading up to Vesalius’s  1543 treatise.  I will then analyze Vesalius’s depiction of the eye and its parts, with reference to his text and to the general tradition of visual depiction in anatomy, mathematics, and philosophy. Finally, I will discuss the importance and influence of Vesalius’s images of the eye.


About the Speaker

Tawrin Baker is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the visual studies program at University of Pennsylvania.

About the Series

Brown Bag Lectures (BBLs) are a series of (mostly) weekly, informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of the Institute staff and fellows and interested members of the public.