During the sixteenth century, knowledge of the natural world spread rapidly among a growing audience of collectors, artists, printers, and philosophers. At the crossroads of material culture, commercial interests and intellectual pursuits, new forms of knowledge mixed with more traditional ways of understanding. Knowledge materialized in the form of botanical gardens, cabinets of curiosity, and an array of illustrated natural history books. It also permeated the world of art and inspired artists and artisans to articulate an often emblematic world view.
The visual arts played a crucial role in the description and interpretation of the new cultural landscape. Recent scholarship has shown how paintings and engravings reflected the preoccupations of collectors and philosophers in bringing order to the amassed wealth of material objects – and in doing so, to the natural world itself. As epistemological standards had to be adapted in order to make sense of the profusion of real and invented natural objects, also aesthetical standards were under pressure to make up new pictorial conventions and to reconsider the relationship between nature and art. Artists were by no means passive interpreters of this early ‘scientific renaissance’, but active participants in a world of wonder and awe.
In the wake of the 2019 Bruegel celebrations, the Belgian National Centre for History of Science organizes a special symposium to discuss Bruegel’s relation to the world of learning. In which ways did Bruegel incorporate the new knowledge into his work? How does his work reflect or comment on the more scholarly activities of humanists or philosophers? More broadly, the symposium will address the relationship between the visual arts and the culture of curiosity that marked the beginning of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century.