Experiments in Early Modern Natural History and Natural Magic


“Instruments and Arts of Inquiry: Natural History, Natural Magic and the Production of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe”, eds. Dana Jalobeanu and Cesare Pastorino, Journal of Early Modern Studies, Volume 3, Issue 1 (Spring 2014), ISSN: 2285-6382 (print), 2286-0290 (online), 153 pp.

Doina-Cristina RUSU

This special issue of the Journal of Early Modern Studies aims at contributing to what is considered to be an unstudied field – the emergence of experimentalism in natural history, natural philosophy, and natural magic. The editors present two books for the intersection of natural history and natural magic: Giambattista della Porta’s Magia naturalis and Francis Bacon’s Sylva sylvarum. The first was read by contemporaries as “a treatise on natural ‘white’ magic, a compendium of wonderful ‘objects’ and instruments” or as “a sourcebook of experiments, recipes and ideas” (p. 9). The second, while inspired from the first, re-interpreted the experiments borrowed from it and placed them in what the editors consider to be a “very different theoretical and methodological context” (p. 10).
The first two articles create completely different images of Della Porta: a stage director who manipulated appearances and audiences on the one hand, and as a very meticulous experimenter and mathematician, on the other. Of course, the reader might ask how can these two images present the same thinker? In fact, both authors bring strong arguments to portray Della Porta as someone interested at the same time in producing both marvels and scientific knowledge.

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