Curiosity and Wonder from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment (review)
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Curiosity and Wonder from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. Edited by R. J. W. Evans and Alexander Marr. Aldershot, Hants., and Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2006. Pp. xvi+265. $99.95.

A number of sophisticated monographs about curiosity and wonder have already been published, but in this collection of essays R. J. W. Evans and Alexander Marr bring together fresh interpretations that open doors for further inquiry. In his introduction, Marr explains that “the lens of curiosity and/or wonder offers a legitimate tool with which to assess the rich interconnections between early modern objects, texts, individuals and ideas” (p. 4). This sets the stage nicely for what follows.

Wes Williams makes the breadth of these terms evident in “‘Out of the frying pan . . .’: Curiosity, Danger and the Poetics of Witness in the Renaissance Traveller’s Tale.” He begins by outlining travel narratives broadly, then looks at the ways in which danger and authority are depicted in the work of two contrasting authors, André Thevet and Jean de Léry, skillfully comparing their address to fables and histories. In “The Metaphorical Collecting of Curiosities in Early Modern France and Germany,” Neil Kenny addresses the etymological complexities of curiosity and brings to life the discursive opportunities and options it posed. Next, in “The New World Collections of Duke Cosimo I de Medici and Their Role in the Creation of a Kunst- and Wunderkammer in the Palazzo Vecchio,” Adriana Turpin argues that by studying the descriptions of the inventories of Cosimo, “it is [End Page 978] possible to tease out the various ways in which New World objects were identified, organised and displayed at a time when the private nature of the studiolo gave way to a more public display of an increasing number of wondrous artefacts” (p. 66). Claire Preston examines the ways in which virtuosos and antiquaries were subject to mockery in “The Jocund Cabinet and the Melancholy Museum in Seventeenth-Century English Literature,” and in “Curious Knowledge and Wonder-Working Wisdom in the Occult Works of Heinrich Khunrath,” Peter Forshaw brings curiosity and wonder together because Heinrich Khunrath believed he had been taught various forms of “curious” knowledge and had identified what he regarded as their “wonderful works” (p. 108).

Stephen Clucas has been working in and around these topics for a long time, and he brings his deep knowledge to bear in his essay titled “Enthusiasm and ‘damnable curiosity’: Meric Casaubon and John Dee.” Like Preston, Clucas shows how curiosity posed dangers when he examines how Casaubon targeted Dee to illustrate the dangers of occultism. And, just as Forshaw tackles both curiosity and wonder, so does Alexander Marr in his “Gentille curiosité: Wonder-Working and the Culture of Automata in the Late Renaissance.” Because they were both admired and condemned, Forshaw rightly identifies automata as particularly fitting for the study of curiosity and wonder, as these terms were undergoing a profound reassessment.

In an innovative and fascinating essay, Deborah Harkness uses therapeutic accounts “to question the tricky threshold between medieval and early modern curiosity” (p. 172), and Paolo Bertucci brings us to the Enlightenment in his essay, “Back from Wonderland: Jean Antoine Nollet’s Italian Tour (1749).” Bertucci demonstrates that wonderful tension of the eighteenth century: credulity and superstition poised against the beginnings of more modern understandings of the natural forces inherent in “wonders” and how this dynamic existed in Italian court culture. The final essay, “Curiosity and the lusus naturae: The Case of ‘Proteus’ Hill,” by George Rousseau, illustrates how a particular individual, in this case Sir John Hill, could be associated with curiosity as much as objects and things were.

My only reservation about this volume is Rousseau’s epilogue, which is more a continuation of his preceding essay than an attempt to summarize what happened to the the ways in which curiosity and wonder were understood during the Enlightenment and beyond. This is a minor quibble, however, for the editors and contributors have produced a beautifully illustrated and well-researched book that both shows how much has been accomplished by scholars and how much work remains to be done. [End Page 979]

Bruce Janacek

Dr. Janacek is associate professor of history...