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The Body of the Artisan

Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution

Since the time of Aristotle, the making of knowledge and the making of objects have generally been considered separate enterprises. Yet during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the two became linked through a "new" philosophy known as science. In The Body of the Artisan, Pamela H. Smith demonstrates how much early modern science owed to an unlikely source-artists and artisans.

From goldsmiths to locksmiths and from carpenters to painters, artists and artisans were much sought after by the new scientists for their intimate, hands-on knowledge of natural materials and the ability to manipulate them. Drawing on a fascinating array of new evidence from northern Europe including artisans’ objects and their writings, Smith shows how artisans saw all knowledge as rooted in matter and nature. With nearly two hundred images, The Body of the Artisan provides astonishingly vivid examples of this Renaissance synergy among art, craft, and science, and recovers a forgotten episode of the Scientific Revolution-an episode that forever altered the way we see the natural world.

408 pages | 28 color plates, 129 b/w halftones, 28 line drawings | 8 3/4 x 9 1/2 | © 2004

Art: Art--General Studies

History of Science


"Smith excels when reading history through artisans’ paintings, sculptures, and other objects. . . . The Body of the Artisan is a fascinating and significant contribution to a more social, collective, and diversified history of scientific (and artistic) transformations in early modern Europe."

Simon Werrett | Science

"What is the use of yet another book about the Renaissance? Do we need one more account of the beginnings of science? Pamela Smith’s The Body of the Artisan is eloquent evidence that we do. She traces the birth of modern science, not through any dry theory of empiricism, but through the practical work of artisans over three centuries. . . . Smith argues her point effectively through images as well as text. Her choice of artisanal artifacts is more than illustration; it is essential to her assertion that intellectual history is more than just a tale of ’great thinkers.’"

Simon Ings | New Scientist

"Smith’s engaging study deals with neglected bodies, both those of artisans of the early modern period and that more durable corpus of the writings, paintings, and sculptures they have left to us. . . . A beautifully presented work of considerable relevance to historians of art, science, and literature."

Eileen Reeves | Renaissance Quarterly

"[An] important story of how the combination of labor, social intercourse, and the technologies of the human body produced knowledge about nature in the early modern period."

Evelyn Lincoln | Technology and Culture

"Even if the reader does not emerge from the book with the conviction that alchemists, painters, surgeons, and ceramicists shared the same approach to nature, there is a great dealk to be said for a book that raises these issues with such verve and wealth of detail. The beautifully reproduced images alone make The Body of the Artisan worth its modest price."

William Newman | Chemical Heritage

"This book provides a cornucopia of detailed information based on primary texts. It ravishes in its details, and enlightens with its insights written in a provocative and clear style. . . . The abundant illustrations vivify the text and make the book not only a thought-provoking intellectual activity, but also a visual and sometimes an aesthetic experience. The book will appeal to a wide audience: historians and philosophers of science, art and technology. I am quite convinced that this book will be an important influence for our understanding of the scientific revolution and the interaction between science, science, technology and the arts."

Steffen Ducheyne | British Journal for the History of Philosophy

"A brilliant and beautiful book, an elegant addition to any scholar’s shelf. It makes the necesary next move of bringing the recent scholarlship on science and art together by examining the influence of artisans who sustained and promoted art and science. Smith makes a powerful case for the unity of art and sceince, now disparate fields, in their early modern incarnations."

Mark A. Peterson | William and Mary Quarterly

"A rich and beautifully illustrated work that throws light on a skilled class and oft-neglected set of practices that formed part of the founding of modernity. . . . The Body of the Artisan makes an important contribution to the histories of science and art. . . . The book’s accessible language and presentation make it an engaging read for a general audience and an excellent source for students of the humanities and social sciences."

Trevor H. J. Marchand | Senses & Society

Table of Contents

Part I: Flanders
Chapter 1: The Artisanal World
Part II: South German Cities
Chapter 2: Artisanal Epistemology
Chapter 3: The Body of the Artisan
Chapter 4: Artisanship, Alchemy, and a Vernacular Science of Matter
Part III: The Dutch Republic
Chapter 5: The Legacy of Paracelsus: Practitioners and New Philosophers
Chapter 6: The Institutionalization of the New Philosophy
Conclusion: Toward a History of Vernacular Science
List of Illustrations

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