Friday, May 12, 2006

Gaspar Schott and His Technica Curiosa

The worlds of technology and natural philosophy seem to have been largely distinct. A few cross-overs exist. Hooke, for example, was an avid collector of books on mechanics. An interesting bridge occurs in the work of Gaspar Schott, particularly his “Technica Curiosa.

Schott was a Jesuit and a friend and collaborator with Kircher. “Technica Curiosa” (1664) contains a wide variety of different images. A large part of the work is devoted to popularizing Boyle’s work on the air-pump. He even includes a plate that is a direct reproduction of Boyle’s own depiction of the air-pump. He also includes a variety of plates devoted to other common concerns of the time such as clocks and shipping. The representational style of the images varies considerably. Some, such as his work on ships, demonstrate a style akin to that of the theatrum machinarum. Others are line drawings that presage technical drawings. Of perhaps most interest are the collections of images (small multiples to the Tufte literate) that also appear in the later work of Leupold and the numbered books of machines (I've also described their history).

Schott's depiction of Boyle's air-pump.

Schott's drainage device, rendered in the style of the theatrum machinarum.

Orthographic drawings of clock escapements.

Small multiples as per the later work of Leupold, Brown, or Hiscox.

Postscript: I was just doing some more thinking about the orthographic views used by Schott. They could be innovative, or they could have been rendered in the medieval fashion. As noted by Ceccarelli and Cigola, Valturio (1473) and Vegezio (1535) both printed plates that depicted exactly the same thing: a folding ladder and a lift using the principle of the Nuremberg Scissors. Indeed, given the flipped arrangement, Vegezio may have traced Valturio's plate. Vegezio also adds shadow and includes a person for scale. While Valturio's work is consistent with the representational style of Abbess Herrad or Villard de Honnecourt--albeit with greater attention to perspective and scale--Vegezio's work anticipates the later books of Besson and Ramelli. So the question becomes: were the orthographic projections of Schott retro or avant-garde?


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