Beautiful Surfaces: Style and Substance in Florentius Schuyl's Illustrations for Descartes' Treatise on Man

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The assumption that the Cartesian bête-machine is the invention of René Descartes (1596–1650) is rarely contested. Close examination of Descartes’ texts proves that this is a concept founded not on the basis of his own writings, but a subsequent critical interpretation, which developed and began to dominate his work after his death. Descartes’ Treatise on Man, published posthumously in two rival editions, Florentius Schuyl’s Latin translation De Homine (1662), and Claude Clerselier’s Traité de l’ homme, has proved particularly problematic. The surviving manuscript copies of the Treatise on Man left no illustrations, leaving both editors the daunting task of producing a set of images to accompany and clarify the fragmented text. In this intriguing case, the images can be seen to have spoken louder than the text which they illustrated. This paper assesses Schuyl’s choice to represent Descartes’ Man in a highly stylized manner, without superimposing Clerselier’s intentions onto De Homine.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalNuncius. Journal of the Material and Visual History of Science
Issue number2
Early online date1 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016