[UCP Books]: Wicked Intelligence: Visual Art and the Science of Experiment in Restoration London

Scrupulously researched, elegantly written, and ranging across art history, cultural history, and the history of science, Matthew C. Hunter’s Wicked Intelligence is cross-disciplinary scholarship at its best. Original and challenging in its judgments, it invites us to rethink the relations between art and science in late seventeenth-century Britain.
John Brewer, California Institute of Technology

Visual Art and the Science of Experiment in Restoration London

Matthew C. Hunter


Publication date: November 1, 2013 $55.00 • £38.50
International publication date: November 11, 2013 978-0-226-01729-7


In late seventeenth-century London, the most provocative images were produced not by artists, but by scientists. Magnified fly-eyes drawn with the aid of microscopes, apparitions cast on laboratory walls by projection machines, cut-paper figures revealing the “exact proportions” of sea monsters—all were created by members of the Royal Society of London, the leading institutional platform of the early Scientific Revolution. Wicked Intelligence reveals that these natural philosophers shaped Restoration London’s emergent artistic cultures by forging collaborations with court painters, penning art theory, and designing triumphs of baroque architecture, including St Paul’s Cathedral.

Bringing to life this archive of experimental-philosophical visualization and the deft cunning that was required to manage such difficult research, Matthew C. Hunter demonstrates how the Restoration project of synthesizing images into scientific knowledge—as practiced by Royal Society leaders Robert Hooke and Christopher Wren—might be called “wicked intelligence.” Hunter uses episodes involving specific visual practices—for instance, concocting a lethal amalgam of wax, steel, and sulfuric acid to produce an active model of a comet—to explore how Hooke, Wren, and their colleagues devised representational modes that aided their experiments. Ultimately, Hunter argues, the craft and craftiness of experimental visual practice both promoted and menaced the artistic traditions on which they drew, turning the Royal Society projects into objects of suspicion in Enlightenment England.

The first book to use the physical evidence of Royal Society experiments to produce forensic evaluations of how scientific knowledge was generated, Wicked Intelligence rethinks the parameters of visual art, experimental philosophy, and architecture at the cusp of Britain’s imperial power and artistic efflorescence.

Matthew C. Hunter is assistant professor in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. He is coeditor of Beyond Mimesis and Convention: Representation in Art and Science and The Clever Object and an editor of Grey Room.

For additional information, please contact Laura Avey at (773)702-0376 or lavey@press.uchicago.edu.


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