Crafting Splendor and Examining Light

Crafting Splendor and Examining Light. The Artisan’s Contribution to the Study of Optics, 1100–1700

Marjolijn Bol

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Verdigris with linseed oil, author's own photo

This project investigated how the characteristic Northern fascination with splendor created not only a fertile ground for crafts that in many ways afford luster and shine through polishing, faceting, forging, and imitating refractive and reflective materials, but that the love for these materials also led to a better understanding of their optical properties and, by extension, stimulated optical theory. Using a combination of art technological sources, technical research, medieval lore, and natural philosophical texts, the project examined how the deeply rooted exchange between natural philosophers and artisans such as goldsmiths, glassmakers, painters, and ceramicists, resulted in theories about the behavior of light and ideas concerning the origin and characteristics of the material splendor made by nature itself.