17 Natural Philosophy

Did the “Rebirth of Learning” include science?
How did print affect scientific learning?

Alberti vs Petrarch

Links between the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution

“Renaissance science”

1480 – ca. 1600

a Europe-wide phenomenon

Identifying features:

  •    ancient texts, new ways of studying texts
  •     changes in technology; relationship of science to technology
  •     actual discoveries
  •     new ways of classifying knowledge
  •     institutions for supporting science

scientia;    ars;     Natural philosophy


Medieval translations

Late 15th c+ translations

Mathematics, medical fields, natural history

translation; assimilation; innovation

When experience and text do not match:

  • manuscript  errors
  • changes in phenomenon over time
  • deformities in particular object
  • new phenomenon unknown to ancients
  • finally: perhaps ancients were in error

Example: anatomy and Andrea Vesalius (1514-64)

Helped edit Galen (Galen, ca. 129-199)

On the use of the parts known since 14th c. (pub. 1528)

Natural Faculties translated by Linacre 1523

Anatomical Procedures tr. by Vesalius’ teacher 1531

Greek edition of Galen opera omnia 1525 (Venice: Aldus Manutius)

Vesalius: De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (Seven Books on the Structure of the Human Body)  1543

Led to a great increase in use of dissection for research, instruction

Career success:

became physician to Charles V, Philip II

BBC on Vesalius with Prof. Sachiko Kusukawa


Rapid rate and range of technological changes

institutional “crossovers” between world of university, applied studies

Example: Navigation

colleges; new fields:

  • engineering, ballistics, defense architecture; practical math; surgery
  • precision toolmaking

Printing: languages; illustrations


Astronomy and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

technology, discovery, classification

Ex: Galileo’s telescope

Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza, Florence: Galileo Room


Ex: Craters on moon, moons of Jupiter



Organization of knowledge

Ex: Copernican system (published 1543)

Mathematics; observation


Study of pharmacy at universities

“De Materia Medica” by Dioscorides

Dioscorides, Materia medica (Spanish), Antwerp 1555

chairs  at Italian universities by 1530s, 1540s, then across Europe.

Botanical gardens: Pisa, Padua 1544  Plan of the Botanical Garden, Florence, 1545-6

  1. Field trips
  2. New World finds
  3. Herbaria; Natural history museums.
  4. Efforts at classification

Leonhart Fuchs, 1501-1566. Laebliche abbildung und contrafaytung aller kreuter. Basel: Durch Michel [sic] Isingrin, 1545. [266]-267.    (UW-Madison)