Baroque Modes and the Production of Knowledge

  • Ofer Gal
  • Raz Chen-Morris
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas Archives internationales d'histoire des idées book series (ARCH, volume 208)


In his Art of Painting (Fig. 1.1) Johannes Vermeer opens a curtain and lets the observer peek at the crafting of an image. The lavishly dressed painter, his back to the observer, is busy putting to paper the figure of Clio, the muse of history, draped in blue and holding the symbols of her art: the book and the trumpet. On the wall behind her is an elaborate map of the Netherlands (the west facing up), framed by miniature depictions of Dutch towns. Vermeer “juxtapose[s] two kinds of pictorial image” wrote Svetlana Alpers of this painting in her deservedly celebrated analysis: an image fraught with “meanings (art as emblem)” on the one hand, and on the other—an image which serves as a careful “description (art as mapping)” (Alpers 1984, 166). But Vermeer is not commenting on art alone. “The aim of Dutch painters was to capture on a surface a great range of knowledge and information about the world” (Alpers 1984, 122), and Vermeer is setting a contrast between two modes of knowledge: the theatrical, poetic, historical narrative represented by Clio; and the visual exactness and immediacy of the descriptio—the mathematically drawn, factual map (Alpers 1984, 119–123; 166–167).


Seventeenth Century Scientific Revolution Causal Account Sensual Detail Spiritual Speculation 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Unit for History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Science, Technology and Society Graduate ProgramBar Ilan UniversityRamat GanIsrael

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