Drawing inspiration from Francis Bacon’s early call for someone to write a work entitled A History of the Air, Mazzio’s article focuses on the elusive element of air as it confounded techniques of artistic and scientific “capture” in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Mazzio highlights not the efficacy but rather the limits of material instruments and technologies in the face of attempts to control, understand, represent or emulate the properties of air. In doing so, she emphasizes how approaches to the history of science that focus upon new instruments as central vehicles of conceptual innovation tell only a part of the story, and thus can obscure the productiveness of technologies and instruments that did not work, and overlook forms of innovation occurring at the limit of materialism and material advancement. Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia I and Shakespeare’s Hamlet are both resituated in terms of the way in which they deploy their respective artisanal technologies to encode the problem of subjecting the element of air to capture, and yet reimagine, technological limit as artistic and affective potential. The attention to affect in the works explored is seen, in part, as a byproduct of particular historical moments in which the agency of the air was as devastating and terrifying as the possibility of capturing or emulating it was exhilarating. As an invisible or quasi-visible phenomenon, the air posed fundamental challenges to emergent procedures of empirical observation, yet stimulated creative alternatives in both the “arts” and “sciences” through which the air could be taken in anew.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 153-196
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.