Cartesian Images. Picturing Natural Philosophy in the Early Modern Age (online conference)

October 15, 2020 - November 26, 2020

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Cartesian Images. Picturing Natural Philosophy in the Early Modern Age

online conference

October 15 | October 29, 2020

November 12 | November 26

Organizers: Mattia Mantovani (KU Leuven) & Davide Cellamare (Radboud University, Nijmegen)

The importance of images is certainly one of the most striking features of Descartes’ works in natural philosophy. The lavish images of the World, the Essays and the Principles make clear at one glance how heavily Descartes relied on illustrations – to name some most conspicuous examples – so as to give his readers a sense of his theory of cosmic vortices, to lay bare the inner working of the body, or to depict how corpuscles might vary in structure and configurations. Descartes did not intend these images to merely embellish self-standing texts, but assiduously engaged these illustrations to rephrase, supplement and integrate his worded arguments. The fight over the sets of illustrations that were best suited to accompany the posthumous edition of the Treatise on Man reveals that Descartes’ followers had perfectly understood what was really at stake in these etchings. By the same token, Borelli’s recommendation to Malpighi to employ, in his own writings, images such as Descartes’ documents that this novel understanding of images crossed the boundaries of schools and nations. Leaving behind Descartes’ doctrines, in the course of the 17th century, Cartesian Images started to assume a life of their own, expanding, reshaping and even questioning Descartes’ very doctrines.

This conference – and the volume that will result from it – have two aims. First, they wish to provide the first in-depth and wide-ranging study of Descartes’ views on, and practice of, images, as exemplar instances of the key epistemological, argumentative and rhetorical role that images played in 17th-century philosophy and science. Secondly, they intend to retrace the fortuna of Cartesian-style imagery in the remainder of the seventeenth century. Both the conference and the edited volume wish to shed light on Cartesian-style images both as material objects and as vehicles of knowledge that may at times stand in a problematic relation to the texts that accompany them.

Confirmed speakers:

Delphine Bellis (Paul Valéry University, Montpellier)

Annie Bitbol-Hespériès (Paris)

Maria Conforti (University of Rome)

Mihnea Dobre (University of Bucharest)

Gary Hatfield (University of Philadelphia)

Christoph Lüthy (Radboud University, Nijmegen)

Gideon Manning (Claremont Graduate University)

Carla Rita Palmerino (Radboud University, Nijmegen)

Isabelle Pantin (ENS, Paris)

David Rabouin (CNRS, Paris)

Jip van Besouw (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

Practical Information

The conference will take place on Zoom. In order to attend please send an email to

For any query, please contact usat the same address.

The conference is sponsored by the FWO-NWO Lead Agency Project (3H160697): The Secretive Diffusion of the New Philosophy in the Low Countries. Evidence on the Teaching of Cartesian Philosophy from Student Notebooks 1650-1750, directed by Jan Papy (KU Leuven) & Christoph Lüthy (Radboud University Nijmegen)

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