Bringing Nature into the Court

Bringing Nature into the Court. The Vatican and Reales Sitios as ‘Places of Science’ (1555-1605)

Elisa Andretta

Elisa Andretta's project was a comparative study of the papal court alongside that of Spain in the second half of the sixteenth century, understood as “places of Science.” From these two observation points it aimed at investigating the ways in which scientific knowledge in the early modern age was gathered, organized, and transmitted, and the role these processes played in the cultural projects elaborated by two leading powers of Counter-Reformation world.

Over the last twenty years, many studies have centred their analysis on different aspects of the practices of collecting. At the same time, historiography has established that the Vatican Library was a driving force in the cultural debate of the time and studies on some of the Spanish Monarchy’s natural collections have shed initial light on Phillip II’s relationship with science. Taking these important historiographical stimuli as a starting point, it now appears necessary to move away from the study of single institutions within the courts to a study of the courts considered collectively as centers of knowledge, as “composite systems” consisting of distinct spaces (libraries, botanical gardens, metallothecae, map galleries, and so on) that were in constant interaction with one another and with the space that surrounded them.

This enquiry aimed to shed new light on several vital questions in the historiographical debate, and to contribute to a reflection on the relationship between science and power, on the dialog between different areas of knowledge, on the figure of the sixteenth century "man of science," and on how the term "place of science" should be defined. In addition, the fact of being located at the heart of the two main Counter-Reformation powers makes it possible to reconsider the role of scientific knowledge in the Catholic world.