Magi from the North: Instruments of Fire and Light in the Early Seventeenth Century

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Abstract

The telescope emerged from a setting of natural magic, in the first place Della Porta’s writings on light and lenses. This paper aims a reconsidering the nature and meaning of the telescope as an optical instrument by taking this context seriously. It broadens the term ‘optics’ beyond the usual dioptrics, to a more general sense of controlling and manipulating light, sight and perception. In addition to historicizing the concept of optical instrument, it reflects upon the epistemic features of natural magic. Della Porta explained the properties of lenses in terms of the effects of artefacts on the images as they are perceived. This paper juxtaposes this ‘thinking with objects’ with practices of natural magic in the Low Countries. The central figure is Cornelis Drebbel, a resourceful inventor of optical instruments and in many ways comparable to Della Porta. In the course of this paper the reception of Della Porta in the Low Countries is also discussed. There was a prominent tradition natural magic in the North in which the work of Della Porta also found a modest place.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Optics of Giambattista Della Porta (ca. 1535–1615)
Subtitle of host publicationA Reassessment
EditorsArianna Borrelli, Giora Hon, Yaakov Zik
PublisherSpringer
Pages125-143
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-319-50215-1
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-50214-4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Publication series

NameArchimedes
PublisherSpringer
ISSN (Print)1385-0180
ISSN (Electronic)2215-0064

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