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250 × 190 × 25 mm
280 pages
128 colour illustrations
01 Oct 2016

Eye for Detail Images of Plants and Animals in Art and Science, 1500-1630 Florike Egmond

Image-transforming techniques such as close-up, time lapse and layering are often linked to the age of photography, but they were already being used half a millennium ago for the purposes of identification and study. This is why Renaissance drawings of plants and animals are immediately recognizable to the modern viewer. Discussing natural history images made throughout Europe during the sixteenth century, Eye for Detail traces the early history of image manipulation techniques.

Florike Egmond shows how the roles and formats of images in nature study changed dramatically during this period, as high-definition naturalistic representation became the rule, and large image collections of plants and animals were created for identification and illustration. She investigates what the use of visual techniques like magnification can tell us about how early modern Europeans studied and ordered living nature, and focuses on how attention to visual detail reveals the overriding question that continued to occupy the minds of naturalists from antiquity well into the modern age: the secret of how life originates.

Featuring many striking colour illustrations that have never been published before, this beautiful volume is an arresting guide to the large Continental collections of naturalia drawings and an absorbing study of natural history art of the sixteenth century.

‘In this important, scholarly, and visually delightful volume, Florike Egmond presents a strikingly original overview of the burgeoning years of natural history depiction. More than mere illustrations to complement texts (as in later printed works), these early drawings formed visual components of collections in which a sense of nature itself was first constructed and given order: it was the drawings themselves that were assembled to form archives that allowed early naturalists to begin to evolve a coherent view of the natural world what Linnaeus would later describe as the 'ordering of the natural universe'. In compiling these graphic representations of natural specimens their authors displayed much more than their individual merits in art-historical terms: they also reveal the genesis of a visual vocabulary for representation that would remain influential for centuries to come. The volumes title forms an apt metaphor for Florike Egmond's forensic treatment of these images from an era when art and science intersected on equal terms to formulate a world view hitherto beyond conception: her lucid text allows all of us to appreciate the quietly revolutionary advances in understanding brought about by these innovatory observers of nature.’ — Arthur MacGregor, author of Curiosity and Enlightenment: Collectors and Collections from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century

‘This is truly a gorgeous book, with a well-written narrative and numerous, well-selected illustrations. Several of the illustrations, drawings, and paintings will be familiar to readers, but most will not. Egmond researched many collections, some of which have never appeared in print. The work proficiently explores historical periods of collecting exotic animals and plants that were added to wealthy collectors’ cabinets, yet for many, the next level of collecting involved unique illustrations of the objects . . . The paintings are truly works of art, and very few were designed to be printed. It is fortunate that so much of the material presented here has survived. Recommended.’ — Choice

‘Egmond illustrates her case using works in which formal beauty and scientific purpose are delightfully combined. The result is a persuasive and enchanting book.’ — Resurgence & Ecologist

‘In her new book, Eye for Detail, Egmond draws on many of these (some not very well known and reproduced in the book for the first time) to ask important questions which are of interest to historians of science. In particular, she is interested in tracking the development of imaging techniques in the service of the study of nature . . . This is a highly rewarding and enriching book – it illustrates what the “Scientific Revolution” looks like from the point of view of images of nature in the period.’ — Annals of Science

‘Florike Egmond casts her own exquisitely tuned eye across a broad collection of sources and historiographical arguments to draw something new and subtle from them. Few works on visual epistemology combine both scope and a close engagement with such an array of sources as this book . . . This volume is a delight to read and even more so to behold, and a valuable addition to the existing works on the visual epistemologies of early modern collectors and naturalists. It will be of great value to anyone with an interest in how nature is represented and what this tells us about our understanding of it.’ — Archives of Natural History

‘This beautifully produced and densely illustrated book is an important addition to the existing literature on illustrations of nature in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century . . . a must-read for anyone interested in early modern practitioners of science and the way in which they used their images to communicate their findings.’ — Nuncius

‘In this guided inquiry into the goals and methods of natural history illustration in the long 16th century, Florike Egmond opens collections of European natural history drawings for us and poses a number of questions about their creation, purposes and information content . . . she offers surprising observations about how the drawings were made, how the information embedded in drawings and drawing collections in this period served and furthered study of the natural world, and how the goals and methods of natural history research continued in the same way after the invention of the microscope . . . The book is beautifully and thought-provokingly illustrated throughout with at least 100 color images . . . Her book provides rich ground for further study.’ — Huntia

‘A nuanced and highly readable account of how nature was perceived and studied visually on the page . . . A highly rewarding and enriching book.’ — Sachiko Kusukawa, Trinity College, Cambridge

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Florike Egmond is a cultural historian specializing in 16th-century natural history. She works at the Dutch National Archive in The Hague, The Netherlands.


Part I

Nature Captured

1 Green Fashion: Painted Naturalia in Collections

2 Organizing Nature: Painted Albums as Collections

3 In and Out of Order

Part II

Untrue to Life

4 Persuasive High Definition

5 Rendering for Recognition

6 Zoom: Relevant Detail in the Visual Study of Nature

Part III

Micro before the Microscope

7 Minute Observation

8 Visual Dissection


Biographical Notes

Abbreviations and Appendix


Select Bibliography


List of Illustrations