Solomon’s Temple Models

Solomon’s Temple models as scientific objects

Kelly J. Whitmer

While material models have long served the communities that deploy them as constructive devices for mediating relationships between the physical world and man’s interventions in it, for negotiating relationships of scale and for building consensus, in the early modern period they were increasingly imagined as “philosophical” instruments. While images can intervene or mediate like models, and they often do, many learned contemporaries believed material models were more effective mediators that had the capacity to generate higher modes of understanding. Material models became easier to observe in this period and they were increasingly valued as pedagogical tools. One could find them outside artisanal workshops, outside princely courts and the private collections of professors. Big models of buildings and machines attracted big crowds by the end of the seventeenth century and seemed to lend themselves to increasingly diverse uses as instruments for standardizing observational practices and for regulating relationships between near and far, past and present, art and nature, tradition and innovation.

There were at least three large-scale wooden models of Solomon’s Temple publicly exhibited between 1660 and 1730 in several Northern European cities, including Hamburg, Amsterdam, London and Halle. This project attends to the physical arrangement, composition, appearance and mobility of these three models relative to each other and to the spaces in which they were constructed. Its starting point is Halle’s Temple model, completed in 1718 by a local pastor and teacher named Christoph Semler. Using his own account of the micro-processes he used to build it, the project shows how the very act of model building became an exercise in reconciling contradictory accounts of the space, making these acts of reconciliation visible and actually inscribing or “impressing” them upon the observer. It also explores the capacity of this particular Temple model to serve the community that deployed it as a virtual memory theater, an informational technology and an Anschauungsobjekt: an object for honing the intuitions of those who observed it.

Results of the project’s first phase will appear in an article entitled “The Model that Never Moved: the Case of a Virtual Memory Theater and its Christian Philosophical Argument” (forthcoming, Science in Context) and in my book: “Models and the Middle Way: Performing Philanthropy in the Early Enlightenment” (forthcoming).

The second phase of the project involves integrating these wooden Temple models into a comparative history of early modern object lessons. It treats material models as sites through which to recover links between the emotional lives of those who built and observed them, between myriad approximations of a particular machine, building or instrument’s value, and the joining together of learned and artisanal expertise. It also explores the status of certain kinds of schools as sites of knowledge production best understood in conjunction with the work of scientific academies, universities, laboratories and workshops throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

  • “The Model that Never Moved: the Case of a Virtual Memory Theater and its Christian Philosophical Argument,” in: Science in Context (forthcoming September, 2010).
  • “Unmittelbare Erkenntnis: das Modell des Salomonischen Tempels im Waisenhaus zu Halle als Anschauungsobjekt der frühen Aufklärung,” in: Bildwelten des Wissens 7 (2009).