Sunday, February 6, 2011

"Physica Sacra," Johannes Jacob Scheuchzer, 1735

The incredible images above are drawn from a book which has long intrigued me, Johannes Jacob Scheuchzer's 4-volume early 18th Century extravaganza of art, science and mysticism entitled Physica Sacra.

As described by Christie's Auction House:
'In Scheuchzer's gigantic work, Physica Sacra, the Baroque attains, philosophically as well as artistically, its high point and its conclusion' (Faber du Faur, German Baroque Literature, p. 472). Scheuchzer, a doctor and natural scientist from Zurich, planned the Physica sacra as an explanation of and a commentary on the Bible on natural-scientific grounds. He himself oversaw the illustrations which were largely based on his own natural history cabinet or on other famous European cabinets of rare specimens...
This book seems like a fitting final response to yesterday's very stimulating "Art and the Curiosity Cabinet" Conference at Seton Hall University, where a lot was said about these ways in which early cabinets (and pre-modern inquiry) resided at the borders of art and science, fact and mysticism. I don't think I have ever seen a more elegant expression of these ideas than the content and illustrations of this book, which blends bible commentary with natural history in a bombastic interest in all of the known world of its time, spanning Memento Mori to the Thesaurus of Snowflakes to biblical miracles, all given equal treatment and weight.

Click on images to see much larger and more detailed images; worth your while, I promise! You can see 737 of the images from the book (!!!) (from which the above 7 are drawn) in Greyherbert's amazing Flickr stream by clicking here.

Inspired by this recent post on the Ptak Science Books blog discussing the book; Text from Christie's Auction house description of the book when recently auctioning off a complete 4-volume set.

Images above, top to bottom:
  1. Homo ex Humo ('man from the ground', or 'dust')
  2. Memento Mori
  3. Ventriculi
  4. Heart
  5. Columna Ignis
  6. Solea cum Squamae
  7. Thesarus of Snowflakes


Mark Warren said...

wow, what a nmasterpiece1 the flickr stream is amazing and will take hours to go through. this book really cries out for a facsimile copy to be produced.

Anna said...

I've always had a soft spot for the illustration with frolicking leeches.