Eye for Detail: Images of Plants and Animals in Art and Science, 1500-1630

11 Apr 2018

This beautifully produced and densely illustrated book is an important addition to the existing literature on illustrations of nature in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century. Florike Egmond makes a daring choice by enlisting modern terminology in describing the early modern techniques of depicting plants and animals. Self-consciously anachronistic concepts such as “layered images”, “time lapse”, “photoshopping”, “zoom” and “insets” are used throughout the book. The effect is paradoxical: on the one hand they give the reader a feeling of familiarity with the processes she describes, on the other their deployment in this context aims ‘to make things strange’ (pp. 232–234). One of the main points of the book is to show convincingly that the way of depicting plants and animals did not abruptly change with new technologies such as the printing press and the microscope. Using the anachronistic vocabulary is a bold experiment to extend the line of continuity into our own time. Some readers will see value in this Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt; others who are more sceptical of its heuristic value will find it a distraction.