Micrographic Vision

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Geocentric and Heliocentric vision

Tracing the Unseen in the Scientific Revolution

Writing in the seventeenth century, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) and Robert Hooke (1635-1703) reached similar conclusions regarding the role of close observation - telescopic and microscopic - in understanding and recording previously unseen details of our world and the universe. 

For both scientists, artistic vision played a key role. Their respective professional careers, however, played out very differently.

Dialogo dei massimi sistemi.  Galileo Galilaei Lyncei, Academiae Pisanae Mathematici, serenmi. magni-ducis hetruriae philosophi & mathematici primarij Systema cosmicum.


Dialogo dei massimi sistemi


D.K. Bailey Collection

Opere di Galileo Galilei ...


Opere di Galileo Galilei


Galilaei Galilaei Lyncei, Academiae Pisanae Mathematici,serenmi. magni-ducis hetruriae philosophi & mathematici primarij Systema cosmicum.  Lugduni: Ioan. Antonij Huguetan, viâ Mercatoriâ, ad insigne sphaerae, MDCXLI [1641]. D.K. Bailey Collection.

Opere di Galileo Galilei. Bologna: gli hh del Dozza, 1655-56.

Galileo Galilei. Sidereus Nuncius. Alburgh, Norfolk, England: Archival Facsimiles Limited, 1987.

Galileo was appointed chair of mathematics at Pisa in 1589, then taught at Padua beginning in 1591.  Over the course of his career, his writings focused on heliocentrism would prove increasingly controversial.  He was tried in 1633 by the Roman Inquisition and placed under house arrest, where he would spend the remainder of his life.

Galileo's roots in the Italian Renaissance ran deep. He studied disegno - referring to design and the fine arts - teaching at the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, Florence, in 1588.  His understanding of perspective and chiaroscuro would inform his astronomial observations and his understanding of the heliocentric solar sytem.

Martin Kemp writes that 'the invention of the telescope occasioned a new branch of visual astronomy, that is the actual anatomy of the planet and the sun.'  Regarding Galileo, Kemp continues that the astronomer, 'well versed in the science of perspective and the artists' understanding of cast shadows, was able to argue that the most rational way to interpret the changing patterns of light and dark was in terms of shadows cast by huge topographical features including mountains' (Galileo, 1610; Kemp in Baigrie, 1996).  See, for example, the woodcuts of the moon below.

Galileo's Sidereus Nuncius, written in 1610, explains:

By oft-repeated observations of them we have been led to the conclusion that we certainly see the surface of the Moon to be not smooth, even, and perfectly spherical, as the great crowd of philosophers have believed about this and other heavenly bodies, but, on the contrary, to be uneven, rough, and crowded with depressions and bulges. And it is like the face of the Earth itself, which is marked here and there with chains of mountains and depths of valleys (trans., The Warnock Library).

Similarly, Kemp notes that 'the other incident concerns the patches which were seen to progress across the images of the supposedly immaculate sun.  Galileo argued from the perspectival foreshortening of the spots as they neared the edge of the sun that they were integral parts of the surface and not shadows of intervening bodies.  His method of argument, as he explained, was 'in virtu di perspettica' (Kemp, 1996).


Opere di Galileo Galilei. Bologna: gli hh del Dozza, 1655-56.

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Micrographia, or, Some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses, with observations and inquiries thereupon (1665). London: J. Martyn and J. Allestry. 

The Royal Society, founded in 1660 upon the Restoration of Charles II, was noteworthy in the range of research its members investigated. From the architecture of Christopher Wren, to the archaeology of John Aubrey, to the optics of Isaac Newton, the society’s research and publications paved the way to a more modern understanding of the natural sciences.

The newly restored king had requested an illustrated work on microscopy and, when Christopher Wren was not available to complete the work, the job fell to Robert Hooke.  The result was a stunning compilation of Hooke’s research. It reflected new ways of looking at the world, for the first time, for example, applying the term ‘cell’ as in a monk’s cell, to the pores within cork or honeycomb.

Special Collections’ copy of Micrographia, published in 1665, is complete with 38 engraved plates, the result of the author’s meticulous observations.

Micrographia or, some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses

Robert Hooke



Hooke’s lifetime of astronomical work included Astronomical observations:  the stars and of the surface of the moon; the large spot on Jupiter; and the rotation of Mars. 

It has been said of Hooke that "just as Galileo, on turning his telescope to the heavens, had made one remarkable observation after another, so Hooke, applying his microscope to inanimate and animate objects, revealed equally remarkable features about their structure” (ODNB).