The inquiring eye: Illustration and the production of knowledge

Patricia Likos Ricci, Elizabethtown College


From the early modern period, polymath artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Robert Hooke, Maria Sibylla Merian, Ernst Haeckel, and Ramón y Cajal employed observational drawing as an instrument of knowledge. By inventing the visual conventions of the cross-section, cutaway, overlay, transparent and exploded views, scientific illustrators advanced the study of natural phenomena, the physical sciences, and the design of technology. With few exceptions, however, their contributions to both the history of art and the history of science were neglected. Building on William Ivins, Jr.‘s insight that the development of scientific communities required the dissemination of “exactly repeatable pictorial statements,” this chapter traces the historical role of illustration as a method of graphically representing and communicating research in emergent knowledge domains. Theories of the epistemology of images and debates about the ontological and phenomenological status of scientific illustration from antiquity to the present are reviewed.