Vanities of the Eye: Vision in Early Modern European Culture | National Humanities Center

Work of the Fellows: Monographs

Vanities of the Eye: Vision in Early Modern European Culture

By Stuart Clark (NHC Fellow, 1999–00)

Cultural History; European History; History of Science; History of Medicine

New York: Oxford University Press, 2007

From the publisher’s description:

Vanities of the Eye investigates the cultural history of the senses in early modern Europe, a time in which the nature and reliability of human vision was the focus of much debate. In medicine, art theory, science, religion, and philosophy, sight came to be characterized as uncertain or paradoxical--mental images no longer resembled the external world. Was seeing really believing?

Stuart Clark explores the controversial debates of the time--from the fantasies and hallucinations of melancholia, to the illusions of magic, art, demonic deceptions, and witchcraft. The truth and function of religious images and the authenticity of miracles and visions were also questioned with new vigor, affecting such contemporary works as Macbeth--a play deeply concerned with the dangers of visual illusion. Clark also contends that there was a close connection between these debates and the ways in which philosophers such as Descartes and Hobbes developed new theories on the relationship between the real and virtual.

Original, highly accessible, and a major contribution to our understanding of European culture, Vanities of the Eye will be of great interest to a wide range of historians and anyone interested in the true nature of seeing.

History / Cultural History / European History / History of Science / History of Medicine /

Clark, Stuart (NHC Fellow, 1999–00). Vanities of the Eye: Vision in Early Modern European Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.