Microscopy


It was not until the improvement of the microscope by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) that really intimate structural examination of objects became possible.

It is worth noting that Leeuwenhoek was a contemporary of the painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). Vermeer is now acknowledged as using a camera obscura to create his paintings. The format of camera obscura is of importance to the design of the Enlightened Eye.

Leeuwenhoek’s work with the Microscope included the first recorded illustrated observations of plant cells and microorganisms, and was to heavily inform and influence the work of fellow member of London’s Royal Society Robert Hooke (1635-1703).

Hooke’s masterwork the illustrated book: Micrographia; or, Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses[1] (1665), was created by using a microscope of his own design. Micrographia showed highly detailed drawings of amongst other things a flea, bird feathers and plant structures.

MicrographiaFrom Robert Hooke’s Micrographia 1665. Of blue mould and Plant growing in the blighted or yellow specks of Damask-rose leaves

Conducting public demonstrations of this new of science for the Royal Society, Hooke showed that the effect on the public of these astounding images in Micrographia was immeasurably influential, making the microscope a ubiquitous device for both the amateur and professional hoping to explore the exotic previously hidden world of the microscopic. This was a world populated with curious monsters in unfamiliar micro-landscapes.

The images are rendered exotic by the comparison we make with the visible, and with the resonance the forms have with similar objects on different scales. In the case of the mineral specimens at the museum here there are complex forms and structures revealed for the visitor to explore and populate with their own drawings.

[1] ‘Micrographia by Robert Hooke – Free Ebook’. Available at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/15491.