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The Eye of the Lynx: Galileo, His Friends and the Beginnings of Modern Natural History [Paperback]

David Freedberg

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Book Description

4 Nov 2003
Some years ago, David Freedberg opened a dusty cupboard at Windsor Castle and discovered hundreds of vividly coloured, masterfully precise drawings of all sorts of plants and animals from the Old and New Worlds. Coming upon thousands more drawings like them across Europe, Freedberg finally traced them all back to a little-known scientific organization from 17th-century Italy called the Academy of Linceans (or Lynxes). Founded by Prince Federico Cesi in 1603, the Linceans took as their task nothing less than the documentation and classification of all of nature in pictorial form. In this first book-length study of the Linceans to appear in English, Freedberg focuses especially on their unprecedented use of drawings based on microscopic observation and other new techniques of visualization. Where previous thinkers had classified objects based mainly on similarities of external appearance, the Linceans instead turned increasingly to sectioning, dissection and observation of internal structures. They applied their new research techniques to an incredible variety of subjects, from the objects in the heavens studied by their most famous (and infamous) member, Galileo Galilei - whom they supported at the most critical moments of his career - to the flora and fauna of Mexico, bees, fossils and the reproduction of plants and fungi. But by demonstrating the inadequacy of surface structures for ordering the world, the Linceans unwittingly planted the seeds for the demise of their own favourite method - visual description - as a mode of scientific classification. Profusely illustrated and engagingly written, "The Eye of the Lynx" uncovers a crucial episode n the development of visual representation and natural history. And perhaps as important, it offers readers a dazzling array of early modern drawings, from magnificently depicted birds and flowers to frogs in amber, monstrously misshapen citrus fruits and more.

Product details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; New edition edition (4 Nov 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226261484
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226261485
  • Product Dimensions: 26 x 17.2 x 3 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,018,779 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

David Freedberg is a professor of art history and director of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America at Columbia University. His books include "The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response," also published by the University of Chicago Press;" The Prints of Bruegel the Elder"; "Art in History, History in Art: Studies in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Culture" (with Jan de Vries); "Rubens: The Life of Christ after the Passion"; and "Dutch Landscape Prints of the Seventeenth Century."

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This book tells of a forgotten yet exalted episode in the history of science and art. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous book 19 Dec 2002
By A Customer - Published on
This book, by David Freedberg, tells the fascinating story of Freedberg's discovery, on a tip from the notorious spy and brilliant art historian Anthony Blunt, of a group of amazing antique drawings stashed away in an obscure cupboard in Windsor Castle. The images, gracefully drawn and beautifully colored, depicted a bizarre range of flora and fauna: deformed lemons with claw-like legs, flamingoes, dramatic portraits of badger faces, strange plants...
The discovery marked the beginning of a great adventure told in the book--of Freedberg's search for and discovery of the source of the drawings: a 17th-century gang of noblemen and eccentrics based largely in Rome who took as their mission nothing less than the discovery, analysis, and visual record of all natural knowledge. They called themselves the Accademia Lincea, or Academy of Lynxes. This was the age of Galileo, who was in fact a member, and whose work the Lincea edited and published. With the aid of microscopes, telescopes, and other instruments, the Lincea and their peers began to develop a picture of the natural world in all its details that profoundly challenged traditional views of Heaven and Earth, supported by the Roman Catholic Church.
Freedberg's manner is at once learned and accessible. He tells a gripping story of a group of fascinating characters, some brilliant, some insane, and their grand projects, including a decidedly obsessive interest in bees. Lavishly illustrated in color and black-and-white, this is surely one of the most attractive, novel, and important works of history this year.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
By Gail Cooke - Published on
Rich in breathtakingly beautiful illustrations (83 color plates, 89 halftones) "The Eye of the Lynx" is a must-have for those with a penchant for science and its history.
We are told that author Freedberg, an art history professor and director of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America at Columbia University, once happened upon a neglected cupboard in Windsor Castle holding hundreds of intricately precise drawings of plants and animals dating from the Old and New Worlds. He was acting on the word of Anthony Blount, an art historian and British spy. These drawings had been hidden and forgotten since the days of King George III.
Later, after coming across countless more throughout Europe, Freedberg discovered their provenance - a small 17th century scientific group. Based in Italy it was called the Academy of Linceans for Lynx-eyed.
This optimistic organization set as their goal the representation of all nature in pictures. The mighty task of the Linceans is recounted for the first time in English in this wondrous book. They, unlike their predecessors, focused on internal structures rather than external appearances.
For its time, one of the most outre ideas proposed by the Linceans was the microscope. They simply turned Galileo's telescope around and exposed a once invisible world.

Freedberg has rendered an enormous service in bringing to light this integral portion of the development of visuals as related to natural history.
- Gail Cooke
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