Copying as a Form of Knowing: Early Modern Scientific Images

Copying as a Form of Knowing: Early Modern Scientific Images
11 January 2017, 5.30pm - 6.30pm
Warburg Institute, Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AB

Professor Sachiko Kusukawa, Trinity College, University of Cambridge

In this paper Professor Kusakawa argues for the importance of images as a versatile means of shaping and transmitting scientific knowledge in the early modern period. Traditionally, historians of science have looked to illustrations in early printed books as evidence of first-hand observation.  But a large number of these illustrations, including those labeled as ‘ad vivum’, turn out to be images copied from elsewhere. Copying images was undertaken for a variety of reasons in the early modern period, including as a way to save time and money for the printers. Rather than a disappointing, inferior iteration of first-hand observation, Professor Kusakawa proposes that copying was a necessary and versatile means of shaping and sharing scientific knowledge, but as with any form of transmission, copying entailed some process of transformation and translation. This paper will discuss the many different uses through which images came to constitute early modern scientific knowledge.

The Bilderfahrzeuge Project

The research project ‘Bilderfahrzeuge. Aby Warburg’s Legacy and the Future of Iconology’ sets out to explore the migration of images, objects, commodities, and texts, in short: the migration of ideas in a broad historical and geographical context. It is funded by the German Ministry of Higher Education and Research, realised in cooperation with the Max Weber Stiftung, and situated at the Warburg Institute, London, as well as at the Deutsche Forum für Kunstgeschichte (Paris), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Kunsthistorische Institut (Florence), and Warburg Haus (Hamburg). Each institution is represented by one of the five professors who also direct the research project: Andreas Beyer (Basel/Paris) who is also functioning as the research centre’s speaker, Horst Bredekamp (Berlin), Uwe Fleckner (Hamburg), David Freedberg (London), and Gerhard Wolf (Florence). For more information on the Bilderfahrzeuge Project please visit our website at


Warburg Events Office
020 7862 8910