Reading the Book of Nature in the Dutch Golden Age, 1575-1715


Author: Eric Jorink
Translator: Peter Mason
Traditionally, Dutch scientific culture of the Golden Age is regarded as rational, pragmatic, and utilitarian. The role of Christiaan Huygens, Johannes Swammerdam and Antoni van Leeuwenhoek in the so called Scientific Revolution was recognised long ago, as was the fact that the revolutionary philosophy of René Descartes made its first impact in the Netherlands.
This book challenges the traditional picture. First, it shows how nature was regarded as a second book of God, next to the Bible. For many, contemplating, investigating, representing and collecting natural objects was a religious activity. Secondly, this book demonstrates that the deconstruction of the old view of nature was partly caused by the pioneering exegetical research conducted in the Dutch Republic, more specifically, the emergence of radical biblical criticism.

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Eric Jorink (1963), Ph.D. in History cum laude, University of Groningen, is researcher at the Huygens Institute (Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences), The Hague. The Dutch edition of this book was granted a research award by the prestigious Praemium Erasmianum Foundation.
"Jorink's deeply grounded, expressly Dutch account charts the main intellectual shift from wonder to observational science, as recounted by Daston and Park (1998), but also complements that rich pictorial record of visual knowledge, epitomized now by the imagery within Dackerman's exhibition." – Larry Silver, in: HNA Review of Books, April 2012

Unpublished endorsements:
"Erudite and elegant" – Anthony Grafton, Princeton University
"Reading the Book of Nature is clearly a new standard work for all those interested in Early Modern intellectual history." – Wiep van Bunge, Erasmus University Rotterdam
"Reading the Book of Nature in the Dutch Golden Age makes an important and timely contribution to the history of science and to European intellectual history more generally. Jorink successfully shows not only how fruitful was the prevailing conception of nature as God's second Book to the emergence of a vibrant discipline of natural history, but how relevant was humanist culture to the formulation of new scientific methodologies and practices. Given the centrality of Dutch intellectual life to early modern European culture, this rich and nuanced understanding of Dutch science should appeal to a broad readership." – Mordechai Feingold, California Institute of Technology
"Eric Jorink's marvellous study of the role of the wonders of nature in the learned culture of the Dutch Republic provides us with an original and fascinating insight into the mentality of the Golden Age. Jorink traces the religious, cultural and social contexts for observation, collecting, and study of the manifestations of nature with a sensitive eye and a fluent pen. His book will change the understanding of historians of the Netherlands concerning the role played by religious belief in the science of the seventeenth century and will amaze historians of science who have hitherto ignored the mainstream of Dutch discussion of the natural world in that period." – Scott Mandelbrote, University of Cambridge
List of Illustrations

1. Introduction

2. The Interpretation of the Book of Nature down to around 1660
2.1.The Strength of Tradition
2.2 Two Books up for Discussion

3. Comets: The Debates on the ‘Wonders in the Heavens’
3.1. Introduction
3.2. Dutch views on Comets down to around 1660
3.3. From Ominous to Glorious Signs: the Comet of 1664
3.4. Conceptions of Comets around 1700
3.5. Concluding Remarks

4. Insects: ‘The Wonders of God in the Humblest Creatures’
4.1. Introduction.
4.2. The Study of Insects in the Dutch Republic down to ca. 1660
4.3. Swammerdam and the Transformation of the Book of Nature
4.4. The Insect Bug around 1700
4.5. Concluding Remarks

5. Collections of Curiosities: ‘A Book in which God has gloriously described Himself’
5.1. Introduction
5.2. Collections of Curiosities in the Netherlands down to ca. 1660
5.3. From Collection of Curiosities to Cabinet of Naturalia
5.4. Dutch Collections around 1700
5.5. Concluding Remarks

6. Books of Wonders: from Rarity to Regularity
6.1. Introduction
6.2. Books of Wonders in the Dutch Republic down to around 1660
6.3. Johannes de Mey: Between Exegesis and Experiment
6.4. Books of Wonders around 1700
6.5. Concluding Remarks

7. The Book of Nature: from Axiom to Metaphor

Index of Names
All those interested in the history of science, the relation between science and religion, the history of biblical scholarship, the history of collecting as well as those interested in the Dutch Golden Age.