Visualizing the Unknown

The international project "Visualizing the Unknown: Scientific Observation, Representation and Communication in Seventeenth-century Science and Society" aims at reconstructing the pioneering observations of seventeenth-century microscopists such as Robert Hooke and Antoni van Leeuwenhoek. Probing into previously unknown structures contained within insects, sperm and bacteria, among other things, these scientists had to develop a new visual idiom to shape, record and disseminate their discoveries. What could they actually see? How did they seek to persuade their peers and the general public of the significance of their discoveries?
By using original microscopes, preparing specimens according to seventeenth-century methods, and consulting original drawings and notes, while also deploying modern, high-tech instruments, we will explore the challenges the earliest microscopists faced. The project will study the fluid boundaries between science and art, between material culture and European scholarly networks around 1700.
This project is funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO). It is a collaboration between Eric Jorink (Huygens Institute & Leiden University), Tiemen Cocquyt (Rijksmuseum Boerhaave), and Sietske Fransen (BHMPI). It brings together an international team of experts and will run over six years, starting 1 October 2021.
More information as well as updates on events can be found on the project website:

Current Projects

Prof. Dr. Eric Jorink: Visualizing the Unknown. Scientific Observation, Representation and Communication in 17th-century Science and Society

Sietske Fransen, Ph.D.: Collaborative Vision: Depicting Microscopic Observations


This project is financed by an Open Competition Grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO), project nr. 406.20.FR.012.
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