Sunday, January 12, 2014

Through the (Looking) Lens

New ways of seeing the world are often the product of those working at the intersection of multiple disciplines. One such individual was little known artist / inventor Cornelius Varley, whose work was recently on display at the American Philosophical Society Museum in Philadelphia. Varley was primarily an artist, and exhibited talent for watercolor landscapes and portrait drawings; but also displayed an innate curiosity in the natural world and scientific instruments.

In 1811, Varley invented the "Patent Graphic Telescope"--a portable "camera lucida" which allowed him to see a subject observed through a macro- or micro-scopic lens superimposed, through a series of mirrors, onto a drawing surface in front of him. This allowed Varley to produce a collection of beautifully detailed images of the living botanical world seen through his microscope with a near photographic accuracy.

The images deserve a closer look to appreciate the graphic detail of his work: a narrative of thoughts and observations are interwoven with the images; arrows suggest the movement that Varley observed as he was recording; all transcribed on rich watercolors rendered with scientific precision and organic artistry.

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