An infinitely small world : images of the creation of life in early modern science and microscopy
Source document: Opuscula historiae artium. 2020, vol. 69, iss. 2, pp. 144-159
ISSN1211-7390 (print)2336-4467 (online)
License: Not specified license
The transformation of perspectives on living organisms that coincided with new findings in the 17th century had a significant influence on the science of living things. The invention of the microscope contributed to this, as it opened up an unknown and 'infinitely' small world full of never before seen living (and non-living) structures. Along with the development of microscope technology (and often as a result of it) ideas about how new life emerged and evolved also underwent a transformation. This article looks at selected figures that played a role in in early modern science (most notably Girolamo Fabrizi d'Acquapendente, William Harvey, Marcello Malpighi) and describes the diverse array of theories (in no way consolidated) that arose in the 17th century relating to the creation of new life. It examines how these theories were reshaped by the arrival of a new technology and by new discoveries (Harvey's important theory of 'omne vivum ex ovo' and the discovery of sperm). The article also focuses on the role of visual (re)presentation in these early scientists' work and on how instrumental pictures were and are in shaping ideas about living things.
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