…’being look’d upon with a Microscope’
Robert Hooke’s intricate pictures of the human and natural world up close – including fleas, a fly’s eyes, fish scales and a razor blade – caused a sensation in seventeeth-century England, when microscopes were new-fangled instruments and drawing was the only way to show what they pictured.
Published in 1665, Micrographia: or Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses became a best-seller and the world’s first popular science book.
Fellow in the History and Philosophy of Science at Trinity College, Professor Sachiko Kusukawa, says Hooke was a fascinating character who made his readers ‘see the world in a completely different way.’
Hooke was not only a scientific pioneer but an unusually talented artist. He had been apprenticed to Peter Lely who became King Charles II’s principal painter. The way he laid out his book, with fold-out pages of huge fly eyes, and intricate drawings of the imperfections of man-made objects was very clever.
Professor Kusukawa researches how scientific knowledge was described and disseminated in the early modern period. She is leading the AHRC-funded, ‘Making Visible: the visual and graphic practices of the early Royal Society’.
Founded in the 1660s, the Royal Society is one of the world’s oldest institutions dedicated to the collective investigation of nature. Understanding how the Society presented this new kind of knowledge and the role of the institution in the emergence of a scientific visual culture, are key aims of this multi-disciplinary project.
Micrographia was one of the publications sponsored in the seventeenth century by the Royal Society, which is celebrating the 350th anniversary of Hooke’s achievement.
The Big Draw – Seeing Closer takes place on Saturday 17 October at the Royal Society, where visitors will be able to view the beautiful illustrations in Micrographia, take a crash course in illustration, learn about historic engraving techniques and try microscopy.