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Science Imagined: An Exhibition of the Book as Art / Apianus P ; Black L ; Burch K ; Bytheriver M ; Chen J ; Colby S ; Cutler-Shaw J ; Deschamps F ; Golden A ; Hobson C ; Leavitt N ; McGurk R ; Ng K ; Thomas D ; Thomas P ; Walkup K ; Yule D ; Connors M ; Honn T ; O'Banion N ; Rapoport S ; Waanders H., 1996

Identifier: CC-41380-43363

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Scope and Contents

In her introductory essay, "Experiments in Print: A Brief History," Robin E. Rider describes Peter Apianus' great work "La cosmographie de Pedro Apiano" and the construction of the volvelles. The Sackner Archive holds a facsimile edition of this work. The book artists selected for this exhibition were influenced and stimlated with contemporary or historical scientific works and theories. The following is an abridged reproduction of Rider's essay. The first century after Gutenberg witnessed dramatic changes in the book, as well as the opening of the period known as the Scientific Revolution. But more than that, the early printed book of science, like many an artist's book since, helped to push the envelope-that is, it made special demands on the new technologies of printing, and prompted significant attempts to break the bounds of the printed page in order to encompass scientific information and images. To meet the needs of authors and readers, flat, static pages, mainly black-on-white, needed to accommodate and represent the moving as well as the stationary, the solid as well as the flat, in richer colors than black-on-white. The experiments of early scientific authors and their illustrators, publishers, and printers can thus speak to innovators and admirers of the book arts as they do to practitioners and students of science. Like the manuscript book that preceded it, the early printed science book contained information about motion and change. And yet the printed page seemed to promise to fix information once and for all, no longer subject to the vagaries of scribal error. How then to convey concepts of motion and change in such a static medium? One approach borrowed a trick from scientific manuscripts of the Middle Ages: the volvelle, a rotating paper disk attached to the page by a knotted string or thread through the center of the disk. Such a device, whether decorated by hand or printed by machine, proved eminently well suited to depicting the motions of heavenly bodies, then understood to follow essentially circular paths.e need only to look to the published work of Peter Apianus (1495-1552) to see an abundance of volvelles. Apian's stock in-trade was teaching astronomy and its applications, a hot topic in the age of exploration, and his textbooks were dotted with volvelles, which served both as models of astronomical phenomena and as small, paper versions of astronomical and navigational instruments. That such fragile constructions have survived four centuries is tribute to the stewardship of book collectors and librarians; their preservation also owes much to the care taken by their printers and illustrators. Consider the anatomy of a volvelle: space was left on the printed page to accommodate the volvelle, usually a woodcut, necessarily printed on a separate leaf, often with instructions on its proper installation It could be made more durable by pasting it onto other paper, often printer's waste or a leftover manuscript page. Cutting required a steady hand. Attaching the volvelle with string could pose a knotty problem, but with forethought a printer could plan and print the back of the page to accommodate the knot that attached the volvelle; sometimes he also supplied woodcut rosettes to hide the knots on both sides of the page. Even in later editions and translations of Apian s work, volvelles continued to make an appearance-evidence of their persistent utility as teaching devices. Apianus, like several other notable authors of the Scientific Revolution, combined scientific pursuits with printing and publishing. And it is in Apianus' masterwork as a printer that we see the full potential of the volvelle, both to teach and to impress. His "Astronomicum Caesareum" of 1540, dedicated to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (hence Caesareum), and his brother Ferdinand, was designed around volvelles. This large-scale volume introduced the motions of the heavens and the use of astronomical instruments with text pages reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts and a series of full-page illustrations, heavily ornamented, often bearing multiple superimposed volvelles cut out to reveal layers beneath. Following the principles of Ptolemaic, Earth-centered astronomy (recall that the book was published three years before that of Copernicus), the planets and the moon each got a set of volvelles, which, when carefully assembled, could function as instruments for determining the planetary positions. Ornamental initials, specially designed for the occasion, showed cherubs undertaking mathematical and astronomical measurements. The illustrations were individually painted and the volvelles assembled in Apianus own workshop. 'I'hough one might imagine the volume was one of a kind, in fact the print "run" was substantially larger: the Houghton Library at Harvard, for example, has two copies, and Harvard historian Owen Gingerich has extended the search and examined more than a hundred copies of the hook in libraries and personal collections around the world. Some copies were presented as gifts to Apianus' patrons; others were purchased by wealthy amateur astronomers; and all stood as examples of sumptuous book art. No matter how many layers were assembled, however, the disks remained flat. Apiaus' textbooks, like the ancient and medieval studies of astronomy that informed them, tried various illustrative ploys to suggest a three-dimensional cosmos in two dimensions. -- Source of annotation: Marvin or Ruth Sackner.


  • Creation: 1996



0 See container summary (1 soft cover book (32 pages)) : illustrations ; 31.7 x 16.5 x .4 cm

Language of Materials

From the Collection: English

Physical Location

shelf alphabeti

Custodial History

The Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, on loan from Ruth and Marvin A. Sackner and the Sackner Family Partnership.


Published: Berkeley, California : Berkeley Art Center. General: Added by: RUTH; updated by: MARVIN.

Repository Details

Part of the The Ruth and Marvin Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry Repository

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