Spring 2017

  HA 192D | CCN: 34413

Rubens Undergraduate Seminar: Renaissance Art and Science: Flemish Scientific Instruments in context

Koenraad Van Cleempoel

Monday | 9:00 - 12:00pm

This course starts from the assumption that art and science where strongly related in the Renaissance, which we illustrate by studying a large corpus of scientific instruments, such as astrolabes, globes, sundials and armillary spheres. Representing the concept of ‘materialised knowledge’ we approach them both conceptually – as carriers of ideas – and materially. There is a particular emphasis on the ‘Northern Renaissance’ and the Flemish context: between c. 1525 and c. 1580 the university city of Louvain became Europe’s most important center for instrument making partly due to the research and technical skills of Gerard Mercator (1512-1594) and Gemma Frisius (1508-1555). This high reputation is due in equal measure to the combination of the beauty and the precision of these instruments. The decorative aspects took their inspiration from contemporary manuals by Antwerp artists, while their functional aspects embodied the most up-to-date knowledge of the time as distilled by contemporary mathematical practitioners. It is this perfect harmony of aesthetics and science that made the Louvain instruments so sought after in the European market. Many instruments were also sold in Antwerp via the Plantin Press to Spanish collectors. The newly built library of Philip’s II Escorial housed many Flemish instruments.

The syllabus will also elaborate on representations of these instruments in paintings from the middle ages up to the 17th century, such as the Antwerp Cabinet interiors or the Rubens-Brueghel allegory of the senses, among others. 

This course fulfills the following Major requirements: Geographical area (A) and Chronological period (II).