Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

Images in Renaissance Science, Function of

  • Renzo BaldassoEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_933-1


Medieval natural philosophy proper, i.e., philosophia naturalis, was concerned with understanding natural motion and change, understood in the broadest forms; it was anchored primarily to Aristotle’s Physica, De caelo, De generatione et corruptione, and De animalibus. These Aristotelian texts and their textual traditions did not relay on graphic arguments or visual representations. Over the course of the Renaissance, the intellectual and cultural boundaries, investigative domain, and methods of natural philosophy were transformed by the expansion of subalternated disciplines, including anatomy, botany, and mechanics. Because these disciplines made extensive use of illustrations, the epistemic value of visual representation became important and images served both as representations of the evidence and as demonstrations. During the sixteenth century, a second factor that supported a new function for images in science developed from the philosophical controversy about the status of geometrical proofs and mathematical knowledge more generally, known as the quaestio de certitudine mathematicarum. The ground for the transformation of natural philosophy during the sixteenth century and the new role to be played by illustrations within it was prepared during the fifteenth century by the rise of what Alexandre Koyré called a mentalité visuelle. Specifically, technical drawings and the language of disegno acquired currency at court; graphic apparata were devised for recently recovered and newly edited classical scientific treatises, as epitomized by Ptolemy’s Cosmographia; finally, mathematical humanists made mathematical sciences fashionable for courtiers, at a time when the printing press canonized illustrations as text, contributing to shaping of a new intellectual culture.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Arizona State UniversityTempeUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Matteo Valleriani
    • 1
  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for the History of ScienceBerlinGermany