The aim of this article is to suggest that some scientific instruments may be considered worthy of their own biographies and that such a genre may have its own merits and charms. The instrument chosen to exemplify this point is a Hartnack microscope objective lens of about 1860 which served, in turn, the histologist and anatomist Albert von Kölliker, the comparative anatomist Robert Wiedersheim. the surgeon Frederic Kammerer, and the embryologist Edmund Beecher Wilson, and which travelled from Paris to New York by way of Würzburg, Genoa, and Freiburg. Despite a fairly discouraging archival situation, the search for the circumstances surrounding the various employers of "8K" allows us to view the role of microscopes in nineteenth-century biology from a new angle. In additon, the fate of "8K" itself endows this objective with a symbolical significance which transcends its specific functions.
A broad-based and distinguished panel of editors and international advisors has made a careful selection of the best new research emerging in a vibrant field examining this formative period of European scientific thought. Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy and Science contains contributions from an international cast of experienced and promising scholars and looks for the highest standards of scholarship in work that is thought-provoking, insightful, and at the forefront of contemporary discussion.
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This article opens with a distinction between David Hockney's strong and weak theses. According to the strong thesis, in the period 1430-1860, optical tools (mirrors, lenses, the camera obscura, etc.) were used in the production of paintings; according to the weak thesis, mirrors and lenses merely inspired their naturalistic look. It will be argued that while for the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, there is little evidence in favor of the strong thesis, the case is different for the seventeenth century, for which the use of optical instruments by painters is a documented fact. In this article, an early case is examined. The extant preparatory drawings of Gaspare Vanvitelli (Gaspar van Wittel, 1652-1736) suggest that this cityscape painter relied on a camera obscura. But even here, the strong thesis must be tempered. The fact that several stages of artistic transformation separate the camera obscura projection from the finished painting undermines Hockney's analogy between optically assisted painting and 'naturalistic' photography.