In writing my reference book on biography, I have been seeking out group biographies, books in which the several individuals are profiled (perhaps with chapters) and their relationships described. I think it was in the bookshop at the Morton Arboretum that I first saw The Eye of the Lynx: Galileo, His Friends, and the Beginnings of Modern Natural History by David Freedberg. I may have seen it in a catalog from the University of Chicago Press. Perhaps I read a review. I am uncertain, but I did see it somewhere and placed a request for the book. It landed on my desk late last week.
Now I have the book in my hands, and it weighs a ton. The high quality paper and the binding are appropriate for an art book, which it is. It is also a history of science text, which includes beautiful reproductions of scientific illustrations from various members of the Academy of Linceans, a seventeenth century Italian organization founded by Prince Federico Cesi in 1603. Though Galileo was a member, most of the illustration (some in color) are from other members. Because they were a diverse lot, there are drawing of the planets, plants, insects, mammals, birds, and fossils.
What is important about this group is that they pioneered methods of dissecting specimens and drew structures not apparent from a glance at the exterior surfaces. There was some drama in their lives, for in the wake of Galileo's trial for heresy, their revolutionary drawings were dangerous. Because church authorities discouraged studies that contradicted accepted explanations of nature, they only shared their work among trusted friends.
The story of how Freedberg came to write this book is included. He found a cupboard full of old drawings in Windsor Castle about which there was little information. He began an investigation, which took him across Europe in search of more drawings and the identities of the Linceans.
The reader of The Eye of the Lynx learns much about the study of natural history and how the art of drawing advanced the sciences, but personal details about the men involved are pretty buried in this text. So, I am not adding it to my biography book, but I want to recommend it to someone who enjoys botanic and zoological drawings. You may have to request it from a special or academic library.
Freedberg, David. The Eye of the Lynx: Galileo, His Friends, and the Beginnings of Modern Natural History. University of Chicago Press, 2002. ISBN 0226261476.