Project (2013-2014)

The Art of Observation in the Early Modern Print (1500–1700)

This project examined how first-hand observations came to be recorded in images in several printed genres that claimed to reproduce unmediated experience with the world. Prints in these diverse genres helped cue observations, calibrate sightings, and thus sharpen visual acuity. These texts delivered strategies for observing human, terrestrial, and cosmographic phenomena through images. In arguing for the kinship of visual tactics found in epistemic genres such as cosmography and natural history, as well as how-to texts like physiognomies and artists’ manuals, this book project aimed to show how images helped elevate the testimony of the first hand observer to a status where it could compete with ancient wisdom. The paradoxically non-naturalistic formal properties that characterized these images served the twin goals of recording empirical experience and organizing that data into disciplinary knowledge.