Synopses & Reviews
Some years ago, David Freedberg opened a dusty cupboard at Windsor Castle and discovered hundreds of vividly colored, masterfully precise drawings of all sorts of plants and animals from the Old and New Worlds. Coming upon thousands more drawings like them across Europe, Freedberg finally traced them all back to a little-known scientific organization from seventeenth-century Italy called the Academy of Linceans (or Lynxes).
Founded by Prince Federico Cesi in 1603, the Linceans took as their task nothing less than the documentation and classification of all of nature in pictorial form. In this first book-length study of the Linceans to appear in English, Freedberg focuses especially on their unprecedented use of drawings based on microscopic observation and other new techniques of visualization. Where previous thinkers had classified objects based mainly on similarities of external appearance, the Linceans instead turned increasingly to sectioning, dissection, and observation of internal structures. They applied their new research techniques to an incredible variety of subjects, from the objects in the heavens studied by their most famous (and infamous) member Galileo Galileiwhom they supported at the most critical moments of his careerto the flora and fauna of Mexico, bees, fossils, and the reproduction of plants and fungi. But by demonstrating the inadequacy of surface structures for ordering the world, the Linceans unwittingly planted the seeds for the demise of their own favorite methodvisual descriptionas a mode of scientific classification.
Profusely illustrated and engagingly written, Eye of the Lynx uncovers a crucial episode in the development of visual representation and natural history. And perhaps as important, it offers readers a dazzling array of early modern drawings, from magnificently depicted birds and flowers to frogs in amber, monstrously misshapen citrus fruits, and more.
"Mr. Freedberg has also tackled an enormous task in digesting the contents and implications of the publications, drawings, notebooks and correspondence of the Linceans, much of it in Latin or Italian, some in their private cipher. The University of Chicago Press has produced an exceptionally beautiful volume from his authoritative and elegantly written text; it is richly illustrated with the Linceans' drawings, which, however, give only a glimpse of the riches to be found in the Royal Collection's definitive catalogue raisonne (the source of many of Mr. Freedberg's illustrations), currently in the process of publication in 36 volumes. . . . The Eye of the Lynx is a remarkable, and most desirable book" The Economist
"Freedberg's superb study finally allows some of Cesi's scientific labours to be published and provides a vivid insight into the life and times of the sharp-eyed Linceans. The illustrations are remarkable, filled with child-like wonder at the richness of the natural world, particularly the lusus naturae, the 'games of nature'fungi shaped like phalluses and fruit with human features. Cesi's scientific sensibility is as inspiring as any artist's and his life's work is a testament to science in its purest forman uncompromising desire to understand material nature, a struggle played out in each of the Linceans' illustrations." P.D. Smith, The Guardian
"Freedberg's book title, The Eye of the Lynx, reflects the name these knowledge hounds gave themselves, Frederico Cesi's Academy of Lynxes. . . . . His book is an attempt to make sense of how the Linceans managed to free themselves from 'the traditional forms and practices of science.' Who is the book for? Anyone with a curiosity about science's history. And the illustrations are extraordinarylignified wood, sunspots, dissected rat and all." Maggie McDonald, New Scientist
"Freedberg's scholarship is deeply impressive: a passing reference to the elegance of Faber's Latin style underlines a critical intimacy with the mass of intractable material in which the evidence of the Linceans' science is embedded. What he has extracted and displayed provides a portrait of a way of thinking that demonstrates the lynx's wiliness and cunning as well as its sharpness of sight." Peter Campbell, London Review of Books
Includes bibliographical references (p. 481-500) and index.
Years ago, David Freedberg stumbled across a group of drawings by the little-known Academy of Linceans, a seventeenth-century Italian group that took as its task nothing less than the pictorial documentation of all of nature. Moving across Europe, he encountered thousands of such drawingsand#8212;of fossils, the species of the New World, or the heavenly bodies studied by the group's most famous member, Galileo Galilei. Profusely illustrated and engagingly written, this book reveals this crucial moment in the development of natural history.
About the Author
David Freedberg is a professor of art history and director of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America at Columbia University. His books include The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response, also published by the University of Chicago Press; The Prints of Bruegel the Elder; Art in History, History in Art: Studies in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Culture (with Jan de Vries); Rubens: The Life of Christ after the Passion; and Dutch Landscape Prints of the Seventeenth Century.
Table of Contents
A Note to Historians of Science
Introduction Saving Appearances
PART I - BACKGROUND
1. The Paper Museum
PART II - ASTRONOMY
3. The New Star
4. The Telescope: Imperfection in the Heavens
5. The Conflict of Truths
PART III - NATURAL HISTORY
6. The Chastity of Bees
7. The Microscope and the Vernacular
8. Plants and Reproduction
9. The Mexican Treasury: Taxonomy and Illustration
10. The Doctor's Dilemmas: Description, Dissection, and the Problem of Illustration
PART IV - PICTURES AND ORDER
12. The Failure of Pictures
13. The Order of Nature
14. The Fate of Pictures: Appearance, Truth, and Ambiguity
Review A Day
"Freedberg's history of the Lincei in their early years is an extraordinary achievement, the result of relentless, meticulous archival research. He has devoted to documents the same energy and unflagging alertness that his Lincei devoted to the natural world although his grasp of the natural world is also formidable....The Eye of the Lynx
stands...on its own terms as an astounding work of mind and imagination." Ingrid D. Rowland, The New Republic
(read the entire New Republic review