Accessibility statement

Images as Knowledge in Early Modern Europe - HOA00067H

« Back to module search

  • Department: History of Art
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Jeanne Nuechterlein
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
    • See module specification for other years: 2024-25

Module summary

This module investigates the interconnections between visual imagery and scientific and other forms of knowledge in Europe c. 1400-1700.

Related modules

Students who have taken the I-level version of Images as Knowledge in Early Modern Europe are prohibited from taking the H-version of the same module.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

How people understood the structures and operations of the material world changed considerably in Europe between the late medieval and modern periods. Expanded networks of travel and trade, the invention and dissemination of printed text and images, and the creation of new instruments went hand in hand with conceiving the structure of matter and why things look the way they do. Visual imagery played a central role in many arenas of study, not merely as a reflection or embodiment of knowledge, but as itself a means of investigation and interpretation.

This module explores the interconnections between how people thought about the material world and how artists conceived of representation and craft making between about 1400 and 1700. It will focus on Europe but may include comparisons with other parts of the world. By closely analysing the construction and design of various “scientific” or “epistemic” images within the context of contemporary knowledge, we gain insights into how the visual arrangement of forms could communicate ideas and shape understanding about the world and its material components. Potential topics may include cartography, botany, astronomy/cosmology, anatomy, zoology.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should have acquired:

  • Knowledge of a range of “scientific” images made in Europe between about 1400 and 1700

  • Understanding of how the processes of making and designing visual images related to ideas about the world’s material structure and operations

  • Ability to analyse the significance of the construction of images in fields such as cartography, astronomy, botany, anatomy and/or zoology

  • Ability to identify and critically evaluate new source material through independent research


Task Length % of module mark
Advanced Assignment
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Advanced Assignment
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on assessed work within the timeframes set out by the University - please check the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback for more information.

The purpose of feedback is to help you to improve your future work. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further, you are warmly encouraged to meet your Supervisor during their Office Hours.

Indicative reading

  • Bennett, Jim. “Knowing and Doing in the Sixteenth Century: What Were Instruments For?” The British Journal for the History of Science 36, no. 2 (2003): 129-50.
  • Brotton, Jerry. Trading Territories: Mapping the Early Modern World. London: Reaktion, 1997.
  • Crowther, Kathleen M., and Peter Barker. “Training the Intelligent Eye: Understanding Early Modern Astronomy Texts.” Isis 104, no. 3 (2003): 429-70.
  • Dackerman, Susan, ed. Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Harvard Art Museums, 2011.
  • Kemp, Martin. “Temples of the Body and Temples of the Cosmos: Vision and Visualization in the Vesalian and Copernican Revolutions,” in Brian S. Baigrie, ed., Picturing Knowledge: Historical and Philosophical Problems Concerning the Use of Art in Science (Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1996), 40-85.
  • Kusukawa, Sachiko. Picturing the Book of Nature: Image, Text, and Argument in Sixteenth-Century Human Anatomy and Medical Botany. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.
  • Marr, Alexander, and Christopher P. Heuer. “Introduction: The Uncertainty of Epistemic Images.” 21: Inquiries into Art, History and the Visual Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte und visuellen Kultur 1, no. 2 (2020): 251-55.
  • Pantin, Isabelle. “Analogy and Difference: A Comparative Study of Medical and Astronomical Images in Books, 1470-1550.” Early Science and Medicine 18, no. 1-2 (2013): 9-44.
  • Payne, Alina, ed. Vision and its Instruments: Art, Science, and Technology in Early Modern Europe. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015.
  • Remond, Jaya. “Artful Instruction: Pictorializing and Printing Artistic Knowledge in Early Modern Imagery.” Word & Image 36, no. 2 (2020): 101-34.
  • Smith, Pamela H. The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
  • Valleriani, Matteo, ed. The Structures of Practical Knowledge. Cham: Springer, 2017.
  • Woodward, David, ed. The History of Cartography. Vol. 3 Cartography in the European Renaissance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.