Once considered marginal members of the animal world (at best)
or vile and offensive creatures (at worst), insects saw a
remarkable uptick in their status during the early Renaissance.
This quickened interest was primarily manifested in visual
images--in illuminated manuscripts, still life paintings, the
decorative arts, embroidery, textile design, and cabinets of
curiosity. In "The Insect and the Image," Janice Neri explores the
ways in which such imagery defined the insect as a proper subject
of study for Europeans of the early modern period.
It was not until the sixteenth century that insects began to
appear as the sole focus of paintings and drawings--as isolated
objects, or specimens, against a blank background. The artists and
other image makers Neri discusses deployed this "specimen logic"
and so associated themselves with a mode of picturing in which the
ability to create a highly detailed image was a sign of artistic
talent and a keenly observant eye. "The Insect and the Image" shows
how specimen logic both reflected and advanced a particular
understanding of the natural world--an understanding that, in turn,
supported the commodification of nature that was central to global
trade and commerce during the early modern era.
Revealing how sixteenth- and seventeenth-century artists and
image makers shaped ideas of the natural world, Neri's work
enhances our knowledge of the convergence of art, science, and
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