Part I: The Evolving View of Scientific Knowledge

This now brings us back to the ideals embedded in the iconagraphy we discussed earlier of Raphael's impresssive fresco, "The School of Athens,"

for in his way Galileo might be said to have synthesized the fundamental principles and insights about nature that Plato and Aristotle had first begun to explore in antiquity.

From Plato Galileo took his faith in the ultimate rationality of nature, and the fact that the key to understanding nature was to be found in the ideal, perfect world of mathematics; but from Aristotle Galileo also understood that to understand nature, one must also be a systematic observer, and that it is only through experience and careful study of nature that the hidden secrets -- the mathematical structures underlying the appearence of physical events and phenomena -- can be discovered.

Galileo achieved a synthesis of observation and theory in a way that was strikingly modern and yet was also a product of the centuries of Italian humanism and the tremendous burst of energy we associate with the artistic ranaissance we discussed earlier in the program. New discoveries advanced the arts as well as the sciences -- and many of these were due to new instruments and methods, especially ones related to mathematics.

This was exactly the mix of ideas embedded in the iconography of an atlas by Marco Coronelli,

which indicates that the exploration of the world depends upon observation using scientific instruments -- as well as mathematics -- which those instruments represent. In contrast to the limits set on man's search for knowledge by the traditional expresssion "Ne plus ultra" -- no further -- Coronelli proclaims the spirit of the new age -- the age of science -- by writing "plus ultra" -- yet further-- on the banner of the trumpeting angel.

This was also the point of the frontispiece to Francis Bacon's great work, the Instauratio Magna,

published in 1620. This work contained Bacon's fundamental treatise, the Novum Organum -- a new method for scientific investigation to replace the old and faulty one of Aristotle. The book was given an imposing subtitle: "True Direction Concerning the Interpretation of Nature."

The ship displayed on the book's title page, is sailing through the Pillars of Hercules. Tradition had always placed these as the limits of man's possible exploration. But instead of the traditional "ne plus ultra," Bacon's title page in fact declares, as did Coronelli's, "plus ultra."

The Latin quotation at the foot of the waves, taken from the Book of Daniel, reads: "Many will pass through and knowledge will be increased."

Go on to Part II: Artists Interacting with Scientists

Return to the Table of Contents.