Susan Dackerman has done it again. Her first major print exhibition dropped jaws and opened eyes to an early graphic phenomenon known only partially but originally widespread: Painted Prints (Baltimore Museum of Art, 2002). Now she has richly employed the unparalleled resources of Harvard University, where she now acts as print curator, to remind us of something we already knew but seldom study under the rubric of the history of prints: that all graphic visual material should form the proper study by art historians. This new exhibition and its massive catalogue offers rich material, which serves to reclaim the scholarly need to address this varied imagery of nature, human anatomy, maps, plane and solid geometry, and even printed instruments of measurement. Some of these graphics just appeared in the terser, more expansive catalogue by Suzanne Karr Schmidt (a contributor of an essay in Dackerman’s tome) Altered and Adorned: Using Renaissance Prints in Daily Life, (Chicago, Art Institute, 2011). But Dackerman’s exhibition considers in depth the crucial role of visual imagery in the formation of knowledge during the emerging early modern period (so often defined by the era of the “Scientific Revolution”). This is an ideal use of a university museum’s potential and mission.
In this endeavor Dackerman has enlisted leading expert collaborators, particularly about the role of the visual arts in the history of science, for her book’s essays. Both Lorraine Daston and Katherine Park, already the celebrated co-authors of Wonders and the Order of Nature (1998), each contributed. Daston (author with Peter Galison of Objectivity,2007) discusses “Observation,” while Park considers “Allegories of Knowledge.” Karr Schmidt focuses on “Georg Hartmann and the Development of Printed Instruments in Nuremberg.” Rounding out the essays, Claudia Swan, best known for her book on Jacques de Gheyn and art and science in early seventeenth-century Holland (2005) as well as illustrated botanicals brings her expertise in “Illustrated Natural History.”
Dackerman’s volume offers sensible and useful topics, but her arrangement of images sometimes scatters related works into different sections. For example, the beached whales that formed such an important contribution to knowledge in successive engravings by the Goltzius circle appear in three distinct places: Jan Saenredam’s Beached Whale (1602; no. 3) appears early, representing the initial section, “Printmaking and Knowledge,” whereas Jacob Matham’s Beached Whale (1598; no. 46) provides “Illustrated Natural History;” and Goltzius’s workshop Beached Pilot Whale (1594; no. 51) exemplifies “Measurement.” Dürer’s Rhinoceros (1515, no. 35) occupies an entire section of its own, together with its lingering influence, analyzed thoroughly in a dedicated essay by Dackerman. But other animal images, such as Adriaen Collaert’s engraved series of birds, mammals, and fishes (no. 45) or Schongauer’s Elephant (no. 33), appear elsewhere, on either side of that core animal document.
One substantial contribution however of this exhibition consists of its use of important illustrated book publications, such as the botanicals by Fuchs, Dodoens, and Clusius, or the latter’s Exoticorum, illustrated alongside the Matham Beached Whale. Other elements that are usually examined only for their documentary value by historians of science, such as human anatomy images, are given their due as visual artifacts from fifteenth-century woodcuts through Vesalius and beyond to university anatomy theaters, including often neglected but major contributions by familiar artists, such as Hans Baldung’s or Heinrich Vogtherr’s elaborate anatomy woodcuts (nos. 10-11). However, here, too, related images are widely scatted, seemingly arbitrarily, across diverse categories, specifically of Knowledge, Observation, and the “Theater of Nature.” Additionally, Dürer’s influential Books of Human Proportion (no. 54) appear under “Measurement.”
In her earlier Painted Prints, Dackerman neglected one of the most vivid of all colored prints of the early modern period – maps – but in this volume maps of both astronomy and geography get serious attention, including gore construction for globes (nos. 17, 78). Though again at opposite ends of the catalogue, the former has its own section, “Constellations and Configurations,” and the latter a segment, “Mapping,” which includes maps of cities, regions, battles and historical events, and full world views. Here, too, celebrated artist’s names -Dürer, Beham, Cranach, Holbein (nos. 80-84) – will please print mavens, whereas celebrated book projects, such as Ortelius’s atlas (no. 88) also receive attention – but, curiously, not Braun and Hogenberg’s cities.
For this reader, the most enlightening section of the catalogue appeared in the form of the measuring instruments, where Karr Schmidt’s earlier exhibition paved the way for the horoscopes, astrolabes, and sundials in all their variety. The marvelous Holbein astronomical woodcut table (no. 73; with Sebastian Münster), which I included in the large prints exhibition, Grand Scale (2008), rightfully receives its full explanation here, along with its necessary accompanying dials. Such are the virtues and lasting value of Dackerman’s team’s deep researches.
While seemingly unrelated to the main body of works in the exhibition, a very important final section is devoted to another kind of visual knowledge, the representation of concepts through personifications and allegorical figures. At the end of the sixteenth century, especially in Antwerp and Haarlem prints by noted designers in collaboration with professional engravers, this kind of imagery appeared in print series. Their topics encompassed such concepts as Virtues and Vices, Planets and Elements, Times of Day or Seasons, Continents, Senses, Liberal Arts, as well as triumphs and progresses. While work by Ilja Veldman as well as Hans-Martin Kaulbach (“Der Welt Lauf,” 1997) has elucidated much of this material, its lasting and powerful resonance with verbal knowledge and memory systems in this period richly repay inclusion in this volume, even if the forms differ so starkly from the other images.
The other major object of scrutiny about the “Pursuit of Knowledge” opens the catalogue on a high note: the Nova Reperta (New Discoveries) print series, designed by Jan Stradanus (1603; no. 1) and engraved (largely by Hans Collaert) celebrates those novel glories of the early modern era that transcended antiquity. Rarely discussed, they provide the perfect microcosm of the larger phenomena that follow, including printing, engraving, voyages of discovery, measurement (compass, clock, and astrolabe). Now it is we who should celebrate Susan Dackerman and her collaborators for their own impressive achievement, which restores these early modern printmakers’ critical role in establishing so many of our own lasting (if all too often now scattered between libraries and print rooms) fields of knowledge.
University of Pennsylvania