Playing Cards of the South Sea Bubble, 1720

I lay it down as a foundation, that whosoever, sailing over the South Seas… shall never fail to discover new worlds, new nations, and new inexhaustible funds of wealth and commerce, such as never were yet known to the merchants of Europe. – Daniel Defoe, A New Voyage Round the World, by a Course Never …

Res Obscura Miscellany, Part One

A medical alchemist, or ‘iatrochemist,’ examines a jar of urine in seventeenth-century Holland. Well, I try to avoid posting decontextualized grab-bags of images (one of the drawbacks of Tumblr and its ilk, in my opinion), but I’m on vacation and busy with research, so this week I’m going to take the easy route and do just …

Auto-da-Fé, 1495

After the earthquake had destroyed three-fourths of Lisbon, the sages of that country could think of no means more effectual to prevent utter ruin than to give the people a beautiful auto-da-fé; for it had been decided by the University of Coimbra, that the burning of a few people alive by a slow fire, and …

A Defaced Herbal from 1710: William Salmon’s Botanologia

A portrait of Salmon from the frontispieceto his Ars Chirurgica (1699). The image above is from a copy of William Salmon’s Botanologia: The English Herbal, or History of Plants (London: I. Dawks for H. Rhodes and J. Taylor, 1710) which is available for view via Villanova University’s digital library. Evidently the nudity of the figure (I …

Jahangir’s Turkey: Early Modern Globalization and Exotic Animals

The above image is one of my favorite examples of the bizarre cross-pollinations that early modern globalization brought about. It is a detail from a lavish watercolor painting created in 1618 by Bichitr for the Mughal emperor Jahangir (1569-1627). Here we find the strange juxtaposition of James I and VI of England and Scotland (1566-1625) …

Strange Creatures Intermixt with a Spaniard’s Voyage to the Moone, 1700

Nathaniel Crouch (c. 1632 – after 1700) was an obscure but most interesting man: a London bookseller, he took the unusual step of authoring his own books on many subjects and publishing them under pseudonyms. Crouch’s nom de plume of choice was “R.B.” or “Richard Burton.” As revealed by the research of Robert Mayer, Crouch …

Some updates you may have missed

  Over the past month I’ve been updating a few of my earlier posts on Res Obscura to reflect new information or add new links and images. Since these updates don’t register as new posts, I thought I’d make a handy list: • Poorly-written poems about nature by 17th century apothecary James Petiver. These poems …

Happy Lupercalia

Many of us in the western world celebrated (or lamented) Valentine’s Day yesterday, that annual rite of socially-determined romance. You may have heard about this holiday’s surprising connections to the ancient Roman holiday of Lupercalia. Yet how many know the details of how V Day began as a Bronze Age rite celebrating the primordial power …

Photochroms of the 1890s

The Photochrom photographic process was developed in Zürich, Switzerland in the 1880s by the printing firm Orell Füssli (apparently still in business as a producer of “highly secure banknotes” and “identity documents” — see link). The famous Detroit Publishing Company (née Detroit Photographic Company) purchased exclusive American rights to the process in 1897, which was …

Smokers and Drunkards in the Dutch Golden Age

I’ve recently been amassing an image library of paintings by the likes of Frans Hals, Adrian Brouwer, Gerrit Dou, Gabriel Metsu and Jan Steen — Dutch painters who were contemporaries of Rembrandt and Vermeer and, though less well known, were in my view almost as good. I suspect that Vermeer’s popularity has given us a …