Logo Università degli Studi di Milano


June 28, 2022: Gideon Manning: To Think About Early Modern Images: A Case Study of René Descartes’s De Homine (1662) / L’Homme (1664)

Antonello da Messina - San Gerolamo nel suo studio - National Gallery London

Milan Modern Philosophy Seminar - Anno I, 2021-2022 : « Ricerche in corso »

Gideon Manning (Claremont Graduate University - Cedars-Sinai Medical Center)

How To Think About Early Modern Images: A Case Study of René Descartes’s De Homine (1662) / L’Homme (1664)

June 28, 2022, h. 3:00-5:00 PM.

Room "Crociera Alta", Icehouse Courtyard, first floor, Via Festa del Perdono, 7, Milan.

Significant challenges confront the historian writing about the visual legacy of past medical, scientific, or technical activity, for we are always presented with what the art historian Martin Kemp describes as a “selective depiction of what is selectively perceived.”  Asking the question of how we might approach the rise of early modern illustration, my talk will be a case study of René Descartes’s Treatise on Man (1662/1664), focused on the original message of Descartes’s images of the human body and its parts, their function in his work, and the intention of their creators, who in the case of the Treatise on Man were Descartes’s editors.  Additional questions I will be asking include: What are the indications that a diagram is needed when only an author’s text is available?  When will a schematic diagram be enough and when is greater naturalistic detail to be preferred?  How do we choose between competing images associated with the same text?  Further, I will suggest that the appropriate language for historians to use when thinking about these questions well beyond Descartes’s work may well be that of Galen of Pergamon and the distinctions he and later anatomists (including Descartes), draw among historia, actio, and usus, all of which are technical terms that help us understand the competing interests and uses of visual culture in early modern medical, scientific, and technical activity.

Useful Descartes related texts in preparation for the talk:

  • René Descartes’s Treatise on Man (Latin/French original, or any translation—try to attend to the language of actio/functio/operatio/usus/utilitatis and their French equivalents; also skim Claude Clerselier’s Preface to the 1664 French edition)
  • Christop Lüthy (2006) “Where Logical Necessity Becomes Visual Persuasion: Descartes’s Clear and Distinct Illustrations”, in Sachiko Kusukawa and Ian Maclean, eds., Transmitting Knowledge. Words, Images, and Instruments in Early Modern Europe (Oxford), pp. 97-133.
  • Rebecca Wilkins (2003) “Figuring the Dead Descartes: Claude Clerselier’s Homme de René Descartes (1664)”, Representations 83, no. 1, pp. 38-66.
  • Klaus Zittel (2011) “Conflicting Pictures: Illustrating Descartes’ Traite de l’homme'', in Sven Dupre and Christoph Lüthy, eds., Silent Messengers: The Circulation of Material Objects of Knowledgein the Early Modern Low Countries (Milnster: LIT Verlag), pp. 217-60.

The meeting will be held in English.

Participation is strongly recommended to students of the Doctoral School in Philosophy and Human Sciences and to students of the Doctoral School of Mind, Brain, and Reasoning.

Everyone interested is welcome to attend.

The cycle of seminars is aimed in particular at students of the masters's degree in Philosophical Sciences.

Informations: alberto.frigo@unimi.it

28 June 2022
Back to top