Galileo, Natural History, and the Americas

Section 1: Old Science, New Discoveries

Members of the Academy of the Lynx were thoroughly familiar with classical works.  As they explored novelties in the natural world, they searched for clues within ancient texts to aid their understanding.  Each endeavor motivated, guided and shaped the other.  

Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1454 led to a more widespread availability of ancient as well as modern texts, making it easier to compare them with each other and with new natural knowledge.

Wondertooneel: Women and Museums

Wondertooneel Learning Leaflet

What were women doing in the museum? 

Levinus Vincent, a wealthy Dutch merchant with ties to the East Indies, created a spectacular 'Chamber of Wonders' natural history museum in Haarlem. Visiting dignitaries admired his museum, including Peter the Great and King Charles III of Spain. The detailed depictions of interior spaces include figures of women engaged in a variety of activities. Museums such as Vincent's offered women opportunities for participation in the natural sciences as donors, collectors, discoverers, visitors, patrons, lecturers and curators. This OER explores the significance of women in these early museums.


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Section 4: New Knowledge to an Old World

Francisco Hernandez lived among the Aztecs in central Mexico in the late 16th century. He collected their knowledge of plants and medicine. He employed Aztec artists. He preserved the Nahuatl names. The persistence of the Nahautl names reflects Hernandez’ respect for Native American natural knowledge, and also illustrates how the new plants resisted classification according to traditional European categories. 

Della Porta: Natural Magic

Natural Magic LL

Giambattista della Porta was one of the most widely known European Renaissance magicians. In 1558, at the age of twenty three, the first edition of his book Natural Magic was printed. Due to its popularity and Della Porta's increased fame, he published an expanded second edition in 1589, increasing the original four books to twenty books. Learn more in this learning leaflet.


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Section 1: The Academy of the Lynx

A new phenomenon characterized science in the 17th century: the scientific society. One of the earliest and most important was the Academy of the Lynx (Accademia dei Lincei). Federigo Cesi, Duke of Aquasparta, founded the Lynx in 1603. Galileo soon became the best-known member. For the rest of his life, Cesi provided Galileo and other Lynx with crucial intellectual, financial, and moral support. The works of the Lynx spanned all fields of science, including the most important early natural history of America. 

Section 3: Strange Creatures

The world revealed to early modern explorers seemed filled with enigmatic creatures. What emblematic meaning might all the strange new creatures hold, who went unmentioned in the ancient sources? How many of the reports of giants, dragons, and other unusual animals should be believed? Fascinated with novel discoveries and unexpected marvels, naturalists sought to relate both the old and new, the enigmatic and the emblematic, in an ongoing dialogue of natural wonder and natural order.