Depicting the Invisible

Science and Image in the Early Modern World

February 12-13, 2016

211 Dickinson Hall

History Department, Princeton University

Early modern natural philosophers, physicians, theologians, artists, and magicians operated within a world of natural and occult virtues, atoms, spirits, and properties that could not be apprehended by the eye alone. From the interior workings of matter and the existence of microscopic creatures, to the influence of stars and the efficacy of witchcraft, they struggled to envisage and represent such “invisible” phenomena. This interdisciplinary workshop will investigate their attempts both to explain these unseen forces, beings, and structures, and to describe them in text and image, often devised using analogies with other fields of knowledge. Participants will explore not only the nature of these representations, but also the practical difficulties of reproducing and interpreting them, and the epistemological assumptions that underlie their presentation – from speculative depictions of phenomena, to images that claim to record actual observations, achieved using skrying glasses, alchemical apparatus, or new technologies such as the microscope.