Books  General Natural History  History of Science 

Picturing the Book of Nature: Image, Text, and Argument in Sixteenth-century Human Anatomy and Medical Botany

By: Sachiko Kusukawa (Author)

304 pages, 121 colour plates, 16 b/w photos, 2 tables

University of Chicago Press

Hardback | Jun 2012 | #201282 | ISBN-13: 9780226465296
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £34.99 $43/€39 approx

About this book

Because of their spectacular, naturalistic pictures of plants and the human body, Leonhart Fuchs' De Historia Stirpium and Andreas Vesalius' De Humani Corporis Fabrica are landmark publications in the history of the printed book. But as Picturing the Book of Nature makes clear, they do more than bear witness to the development of book publishing during the Renaissance and to the prominence attained by the fields of medical botany and anatomy in European medicine. Sachiko Kusukawa examines these texts, as well as Conrad Gessner's unpublished Historia Plantarum, and demonstrates how their illustrations were integral to the emergence of a new type of argument during this period – a visual argument for the scientific study of nature.

Kusukawa begins with a survey of the technical, financial, artistic, and political conditions that governed the production of printed books during the Renaissance. It was during the first half of the sixteenth century that learned authors began using images in their research and writing, but because the technology was so new, there was a great deal of variety of thought – and often disagreement – about exactly what images could do. Kusukawa investigates the works of Fuchs, Gessner, and Vesalius in light of these debates, scrutinizing the scientists' treatment of illustrations and tracing their motivation for including them in their works. What results is a fascinating and original study of the visual dimension of scientific knowledge in the sixteenth century.

“How do images make an argument? Picturing the Book of Nature rewrites the history of Renaissance science and medicine to demonstrate how illustrations became an instrument of knowledge in the mid-sixteenth century. Kusukawa’s careful attention to the making and use of images not only describes something fundamental about science in the age of Gutenberg and Vesalius but also illuminates a culture of lively and contentious debate about the relationship between word and image on the eve of the Scientific Revolution.”
- Paula Findlen, Stanford University

“In this magnificent study of botanical and anatomical images in early printed books, Kusukawa asks not only how the first great illustrated scientific books were produced but why. She shows that, rather than simply recording observations, pictures were controversial tools for teaching, learning, researching, demonstrating, and persuading, and that they were shaped and informed by these complex goals. Erudite, lucidly argued, and original, Picturing the Book of Nature is itself a wonderful example of the power of images in and as arguments.”
- Katharine Park, Harvard University

“Sachiko Kusukawa has elegantly and persuasively displayed the complexity of the choices that faced early modern learned authors regarding the use of illustrations in printed scientific books. She shows that the decision to use or to omit illustrations depended not only on financial and technical considerations, important though these were, but also on a range of intellectual positions concerning the relative authority of text, image, and personal experience; as well as on a diversity of opinion about the relation of image to natural object and to verbal description by ancient and recent writers, and about ways of employing images in an author’s own text. Her learned and absorbing study throws new light on the assumptions and practices that shaped the production of Renaissance books on human anatomy and on medical botany.”
- Nancy Siraisi, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York

“Today we take for granted the usefulness of images in making a scientific argument, but in the sixteenth century many scholars had good reasons for criticizing the use of images in books. In this deeply intelligent and eloquently written (and illustrated) book, Sachiko Kusukawa tells us exactly how sixteenth-century authors struggled – with publishers, artists, classical authorities, and their fellow humanists – to make images a part of their books and a central component of their scientific arguments. Kusukawa overturns many assumptions about the relationship of images and books, making clear that images always worked in tandem with the texts because for these scholars, nature was understood through books. In doing so, she provides essential new insight into humanist scholarship and the interplay among texts, images, the things of nature, eyewitness observation, and the testimony of authorities in the sixteenth century. Picturing the Book of Nature presents an illuminating new view of how sixteenth-century scholars went about constructing a pictorial form of argument in their novel pursuit of making the structure of nature visible.”
- Pamela H. Smith, Columbia University

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Sachiko Kusukawa is a fellow in the history and philosophy of science at Trinity College, University of Cambridge. She is the author of The Transformation of Natural Philosophy: The Case of Philip Melanchthon.

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