Insects in European art, science, and religion from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment
Jacob Hoefnagel, after Joris Hoefnagel, from Archetypa studiaque patris Georgii Hoefnageli, 1592. Image source: Service Commun de Documentation, Université de Strasbourg, France, http://www-sicd.u-strasbg.fr. All rights reserved.
A research project by Brian W. Ogilvie
To modern readers, Jan Swammerdam’s book The Bible of Nature, or the History of Insects reduced to distinct classes contains a paradox: the natural history of insects hardly seems to comprise Nature’s Bible. This book project aims to resolve the paradox: to examine how the intense interest that early modern Europeans took in insects, from the late Renaissance to the Enlightenment, was not merely an episode in the prehistory of entomology but, in fact, drew together powerful currents in what we now think of as the distinct realms of science, art, and religion. Beginning with sixteenth century natural history and the revival of interest in the works of Albrecht Dürer, I examine how insects, knowledge about them, and the symbolic meanings elaborated from them circulated throughout early modern culture. From Joris Hoefnagel’s emblematic miniatures of insects to Maria Sibylla Merian’s life-sized watercolors, from Ulisse Aldrovandi’s insect encyclopedia of 1603 to August Johann Rösel’s Monthly Insect Entertainment of the 1740s and 1750s, from Jan Swammerdam’s insect anatomy to F. C. Lesser’s insect theology, knowledge about insects circulated across nascent disciplinary boundaries, inspiring readers and collectors to focus their attention on these perceptually marginal creatures. In short, insects were good to think with.
Publications related to this project
- Brian W. Ogilvie, “Maria Sibylla Merian et la mouche porte-lanterne du Surinam. Naissance et disparition d’un fait scientifique,” in Les savoirs-mondes: Mobilités et circulation des savoirs depuis le Moyen Âge, ed. Pilar González-Bernaldo et Liliane Hilaire-Peréz, 147-57 (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2015).
- Brian W. Ogilvie, “Insects in John Ray’s natural history and natural theology,” in Zoology in early modern culture: Intersections of science, theology, philology, and political and religious education, ed. Karl A. E. Enenkel and Paul J. Smith, 234-60 (Intersections, 32) (Leiden: Brill, 2014).
- Brian W. Ogilvie, “Order of insects: Insect species and metamorphosis between Renaissance and Enlightenment,” in The life sciences in early modern philosophy, ed. Ohad Nachtomy and Justin E. H. Smith, 222-245 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).
- Brian W. Ogilvie, “The pleasure of describing: Art and science in August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof’s Monthly Insect Entertainment,” in Animals on display: The creaturely in museums, zoos, and natural history, ed. Liv Emma Thorsen, Karen A. Rader, and Adam Dodd, 77-100 (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2013).
- Brian W. Ogilvie, “Beasts, birds, and insects: Folkbiology and early modern classification of insects,” in Wissenschaftsgeschichte und Geschichte des Wissens im Dialog – Connecting science and knowledge: Schauplätze der Forschung – Scenes of research, ed. Kaspar von Greyerz, Silvia Flubacher, and Philipp Senn, 295-316 (Göttingen: V&R unipress, 2013).
- Brian W. Ogilvie, “Attending to insects: Francis Willughby and John Ray,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society 66, no. 4 (2012): 357-72, doi:10.1098/rsnr.2012.0051.
- Brian W. Ogilvie, “Nature’s Bible: Insects in seventeenth-century European art and science,” Tidsskrift for kulturforskning [Journal of Cultural Research, Oslo, Norway] 7, no. 3 (2008): 5-21.
Works in progress
- Monograph: Nature's Bible: Insects in European Art, Science, and Religion from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment.
- International workshop on Insects, societies, and cultures from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, held at the Institut d'études avancées - Paris, 12 June 2012. Organized by Brian Ogilvie; participants were Yves Cambefort, Adam Dodd, Eric Jorink, Janice Neri, Brian Ogilvie, Anna-Marie Roos, and Stéphane Schmitt.
Research on this project has been financed by a sabbatical leave from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a residential fellowship at the Institut d'études avancées - Paris.