The Visualizing the Unknown blog features short scholarly stories about seventeenth-century microscopy from our research team. We delve into key figures in the development of microscopy, the instruments and methods they used, and, importantly, the larger cultural and religious context wherein they worked. We publish a blog every two months, selected from research materials, MicroLabs, our own publications and press releases. And at times also showcasing important publications related to the history of the microscope and microscopy from other scholars. Links to sources and relevant journal citations (if available and necessary) are included at the end of each post.

We hope you enjoy our stories and that you return to our blog often to learn more about seventeenth-century microscopy.

Background image: Johannes Swammerdam,  Ms Bybel der Natuure. Detail from fols. 216v-217r. BPL 126 C III. Leiden University Library 
Sperm, Van Leeuwenhoek

Great new biography of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek

14 april 2023 Antoni van Leeuwenhoekjaar 2023, Art and Science, Review

Review by: Eric Jorink In case you were not aware of it yet: 2023 is Antoni van Leeuwenhoek-year. Many activities will be devoted to commemorating the famous microscopist’s death 300 years ago. Among the events are an exhibition at Rijksmuseum Boerhaave; an international conference to be held at the Royal Society, a richly illustrated book edited by our team-members Sietske Fransen and Tim Huisman and a wonderful new biography by Geertje Dekkers, published this week. Cover of ‘Many, small and cu…

Cutting Wood with microtome

How to cut sections in the 20th century

27 maart 2023 Context 17th century microscopy, Practical knowledge

By: Frank Van Campen en Hans Huijbregts Microscopical observations start with preparations, of course. Largely written out of the historical narrative, the MicroLabs demonstrated the crucial importance of preparing (parts of) insects, plants and trees for minute observation. With regard to flora: only some objects are small and thin enough to be examined directly under a microscope. Most objects must be cut into thinner slices, or sections, to allow sufficient light to pass through them for micr…

Teaching at a primary school for ‘Door de Lens van Antoni’

29 december 2022 Antoni van Leeuwenhoekjaar 2023, Events, Primary school, Teaching

by: Larissa van Vianen. During the month November our team member Eric Jorink and intern Larissa van Vianen participated in the teaching programme ‘Door de Lens van Antoni’ as part of the upcoming Antoni van Leeuwenhoek memorial year of 2023. In four lessons the pupils of year 8 of primary school ‘De Vuurtoren’ in Lelystad were invited by our team members to follow in Van Leeuwenhoek’s footsteps and conduct their own scientific research, using microscopes, and preparations they made themselves t…

Albrecht Durer, Bugs, Crawlies, Merian

Symposium ‘Crawly Creatures in Context,’ 27 October

18 november 2022 Art and Science, Context 17th century microscopy, Events

by: Tiemen Cocquyt and Mieneke te Hennepe The Rijksmuseum’s current exhibition ‘Crawly Creatures’, focuses on the mediaeval and early modern perception on small, easily overlooked, critters, such as: mice, snakes and insects. It was curated by Jan de Hond, curator of History at the Rijksmuseum, Artis Library curator Hans Mulder, and our own research project’s PI (principal investigator), Eric Jorink. The exhibition shows highly detailed representations of insects, three dimensional objects such…

Our first workshop

6 september 2022 Events

By Sietske Fransen. From the 22nd until the 24th of June the first workshop of the Visualizing the Unknown project took place at the Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max Planck Institute for Art History in Rome, “Visual and Material Culture of Microscopy in Seventeenth-Century Italy.” Organized by Sietske Fransen and Tiemen Cocquyt this workshop aimed at opening up the discussion of our team away from the mainly Dutch context to the more international discussion on microscopy that took place in the seven…

On visualizing the previously Unknown

18 mei 2022 Uncategorized

By Eric Jorink. Welcome to our website, and the first blog of this wonderful project. In this place, we will keep you updated on our most recent findings, research and thoughts. Having started a year ago, the project is already in full swing – including what is perhaps the most exciting part of it: looking through original seventeenth-century microscopes (see MicroLabs). In trying to make sense of what we can see through these lenses and stumbling upon unexpected problems, flaws, unresolved ques…