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1 Frontispieces Science’s Mythic Origin Story Science today has a reputation for operating smoothly and efficiently, such that it might inspire little consideration of its earliest stages of development. Nevertheless, centuries of disciplinary evolution, controversy, and technological advancement have contributed to the operation of the scientific enterprise today.1 The term “science” was not coined until the 1830s; prior to that, the sciences were known as natural or experimental philosophy, and scientists were called “natural philosophers.”2 The discipline cohered in the seventeenth century around the work of Sir Francis Bacon, who, in The Advancement of Learning (1605), advocated for a new way of apprehending and communicating knowledge about the natural world. Bacon’s name is often invoked along with the revolution that eventually led to the current model of scientific experimentation and argumentation. Natural philosophers were able to transition away from traditional practices of knowing and communicating about the world through the formation of the Royal Society of London in the 1660s and its publication of the first scientific journal, the Philosophical Transactions. Both the society and the journal provided a forum for natural philosophers to share their experiments and findings. Their break from tradition is described in detail by Sir Thomas Sprat in his History of the Royal Society (1667). Sprat, following Sir Francis Bacon’s charge to overhaul the classical education system, argued, on behalf of natural philosophers, for a return to “mathematical plainness” in their discourse and for an end to eloquence and misleading language.3 Classical ideals and aesthetics were replaced, in this field, by a privileging of technical discourse supported by logic and reason . However, at the same time that natural philosophers were actively striking out embellishment in their discourse, they were also perpetuating a tradition that was ostensibly contradictory to Sprat’s aims: the inclusion of engraved illustrations, called frontispieces, in their books. Granted, one might argue that, 16 • Introducing Science through Images given their education and the long-standing influence of the Renaissance, natural philosophers were classicists, at least in some sense, and so their decision to use classically themed frontispieces was not all that peculiar. Nevertheless, frontispieces can be considered subversive to championing “mathematical plainness ” and striking out embellishment because they are art objects, typically layered with symbolic import, and, in some cases, they are aesthetically pleasing.4 Figure 2, for example, presents the frontispiece to Carl Linnaeus’s Hortus Cliffortianus (1737). Linnaeus is best known for his system of binary classification for species, and he has been credited with developing the field of botany. The frontispiece shows a congregation of mythological figures, each with symbolic meaning derived from the classical allegorical tradition.5 The background is a depiction of a garden, owned by George Clifford, that Linnaeus studied for several years. The results of his research were published in the Hortus Cliffortianus , the text following this classically themed frontispiece, delivered in the plain, mathematical style praised by Thomas Sprat. Linnaeus was not the only natural philosopher who commissioned an artist/engraver to design a frontispiece to appear at the beginning of a technical manuscript. The frontispiece to Fig. 2. Jan Wandelaar, Frontispiece to Hortus Cliffortianus, by Carl Linnaeus. 1738. Available from Wikimedia Commons, https:// commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/ File:Linnaeus_Hortus_Cliffortianus _frontispiece_cropped.jpg (accessed March 20, 2016). Frontispieces • 17 Linnaeus’s book, in addition to others, is considered in this chapter to provide insight into the curious choice of prefacing a departure from tradition with a traditionally styled visual. Because of their aesthetic qualities, it would be easy to dismiss frontispieces as mere decorations, but their privileged position in the front of books makes them much more rhetorically charged than mere embellishments. Frontispieces were significant from economic and symbolic perspectives, and they were responsible for promoting the work of natural philosophers.6 In extant scholarship on frontispieces, which generally take the form of case studies, frontispieces are frequently grouped according to their thematic qualities (for example, feminist symbols).7 Though informative about the selected theme and its cultural context, these studies tend to separate frontispieces from the texts that they precede, which is problematic from a rhetorical perspective. An analysis of a decontextualized frontispiece—viewing it as an autonomous work of art—can result in limitless speculation about its visual composition that is not only unnecessary but fruitless, considering that it is bound into a book that grounds its implications . Moreover, a frontispiece dissociated from the text it precedes is, arguably, a frontispiece no longer. Even if, as in some...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781611178753
Print ISBN
9781611178746
MARC Record
OCLC
1003267820
Pages
160
Launched on MUSE
2018-05-22
Language
English
Open Access
N
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