Romantic Circles Gallery
Illustrations of Natural Philosophy, Plate No. 32
“Plate No. 32 Optics” features thirty-four color illustrations which refer to a range of scientific diagrams and to popular knowledge on the general topic of optics. This variety of illustrations includes images of simple and complex lenses and their use in optical machines, the refraction and reflection of light, the color spectrum, and the anatomy of the human eye, as well as figures of a simple portable camera obscura and a magic lantern. There is no accompanying text bound with the plates to identify or explicate the images.
Copyright 2009, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Illustrations of Natural Philosophy
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Marks DescriptionInscr. top center, “Illustrations of Natural Philosophy. Optics”; lower left, “Popular Diagrams, No. 32”; lower center, “London. Published by James Reynolds. 174 Strand. Dec. 10, 1850”; and lower right, “Drawn & Engraved by John Emslie.”
Printing Context“Plate No. 32” is one of eleven engraved and colored plates bound together under the title Illustrations of Natural Philosophy.
Associated EventsThe Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, a major international trade exhibition and the first world’s fair, was held in London in 1851, the year following the publication of these plates. Although there is not a direct correlation between The Great Exhibition and the Illustrations of Natural Philosophy series, both indicate the increased interest in technological innovation and its industrial applications prevalent in this period.
Associated TextsIt seems likely that the eleven plates were produced and printed separately and bound together later, since they all bear the same inscription and are consecutively numbered from 25-35, perhaps as part of a larger series of instructive plates. The other plates are entitled, “Mechanical Powers,” “Motion and Machinery,” “Hydrostatics,” “Hydraulics,” “Pneumatics,” “Acoustics,” “Electricity,” “Magnetism,” and “Chemistry.”
SubjectIllustrations of Natural Philosophy highlights the continued amateur interest in investigations of the natural sciences during the Romantic period. The camera obscura is positioned in the lower right corner, near two illustrations of the human eye, as well as the magic lantern and the “Endless Gallery” optical illusion. The camera obscura is aimed at a classical marble bust; the placement of the camera obscura oddly links it to both the decidedly more illusion-oriented optical devices and the more objective human eye, while the inclusion of the classical bust signals its applications in the visual arts as a mimetic instrument.
ThemeOptics, vision, light, lenses, optical instruments and related scientific experiments
SignificanceThe set of eleven engraved and colored plates feature an expanded range of scientific topics, topics which had not been thoroughly disccused or illustrated in previous recreational texts: hydrostatics, hydraulics, mechanical powers and pneumatics, as well as the the application of these principles to manufacture. These additional scientific topics suggest the connection of modern science to the needs of the escalating Industrial Revolution as well as to the upcoming Great Exhibition in London, both of these being significant events of the mid-nineteenth century. Published almost fifty years after Charles Hutton’s translated and expanded edition of Jacques Ozanam’s Recreations in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy in Four Volumes (1803), Illustrations of Natural Philosophy highlights the continued amateur interest in investigations of the natural sciences during the later Romantic period. The lack of explanatory text to accompany the images, however, might suggest a decline in the emphasis on intellectual edification with such recreational interests.
Many of the images included on “Plate No. 32” are visually similar to illustrations in other scientific texts, with some slight alterations, indicating that the engraver and draughtsman, John Emslie, or the publisher, James Reynolds, likely looked at previously published books on optics to select relevant images. The camera obscura (Figure 33) is positioned in the lower right corner, near two illustrations of the human eye (Figures 29 and 30), as well as the magic lantern and the “Endless Gallery” optical illusion (Figures 31 and 33). The camera obscura is aimed at a classical marble bust. The placement of the camera obscura oddly links it to both the decidedly more illusion-oriented optical devices and the human eye, while, conversely, the inclusion of the classical bust signals its applications in the visual arts as a mimetic instrument. While Jonathan Crary suggests that the use of the camera obscura in generating images for artists was minimized beginning in the mid-eighteenth century (Techniques of the Observer 32), “Plate No. 32” reinforces its relevance to drawing and painting and connects the apparatus not only to the eye but also to a variety of other optical devices, creating a plurality of models for vision in the Romantic period.
FunctionTo illustrate a wide variety of items related to the subject of optics as a branch of natural philosophy.
BibliographyBizup, Joseph. “`What You Ought to Learn’: Industrial Culture and the Exhibition of 1851.” Manufacturing Culture: Vindications of Early Victorian Industry. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2003.
Cantor, Geoffrey. Optics after Newton: Theories of Light in Britain and Ireland, 1704-1840. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1983.
Crary, Jonathan. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990.
Purbrick, Louise, ed. The Great Exhibition of 1851: New Interdisciplinary Essays. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2001.
Yaudes, Cynthia G. "World's Fairs." The Oxford Encyclopedia of Modern World. Ed Peter Stearns. Oxford University Press, 2008. University of Wisconsin - Madison. 19 March 2009 http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t254.e1729.
Long TitlePlate No. 32 “Optics,” from Illustrations of Natural Philosophy, engraving, 28.1 x 22.1 cm, inscr. top center, “Illustrations of Natural Philosophy. Optics,” lower left, “Popular Diagrams, No. 32,” lower center, “London. Published by James Reynolds. 174 Strand. Dec. 10, 1850,” and lower right, “Drawn & Engraved by John Emslie,” Thordarson Collection, UW Department of Special Collections.
10 December 1850