This time last year saw the launch at the Royal Society of Science Made Visible: Drawings, Prints, Objects, an exhibition in conjunction with Cambridge University’s Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities that explores the roots of imagery in the Society’s scientific practice.

As explained in an earlier blog post by curators Sietske Fransen and Katherine Reinhart, it addresses some of the central questions around the images that our early Fellows were exposed to: Who made them? Why were they made? How were they used? What was their significance?

I hope many of you had the chance to visit our exhibition, taking in first-hand the beautiful watercolours of Richard Waller:


Botanical study of great water reed grass by Richard Waller, [1689]. MS/131/20.


… or perhaps marvelling at Isaac Newton’s reflecting telescope:


But for those of you who were unable to visit, fear not. The minds behind the exhibition have helped us make a vast quantity of this archival material available online via our Picture Library. Thanks to the efforts of all those involved, especially the Making Visible team and Katherine Marshall, the first batch has now been digitised, catalogued and uploaded.

Just over 3300 images, including some of our most treasured and most visual seventeenth and early eighteenth century collections, are now available to browse online, alongside detailed catalogue entries. The result is not only a rich information resource, but also a beautiful tribute to the overlap that existed between science and art in the early days of the Society.

If you haven’t already checked it out, simply navigate to the Picture Library results page and anything with a reference number between RS.14200 and RS.17511 is part of the project. Below is just one example of what you’ll find:


A ‘weather clock’ invented by Christopher Wren to record changes in the wind and weather. MS/776/503-504.


Whilst on the subject of our Picture Library, a quick reminder that new images are always being uploaded to its pages, and that the relationship between science and art is a happy, ongoing one!

The collections of the Royal Society are bursting with examples of images being used to communicate scientific thought, and only recently I uploaded a small collection of watercolours and illustrations of earthworms (MS/742) by a zoological Fellow of ours, Alfred Gibbs Bourne. Less traditionally beautiful than some of our other biological studies, maybe, but every bit as accurate:


Images from Alfred Gibbs Bourne’s studies on the anatomy and development of earthworms in South India. (L) MS/742/006 and (R) MS/742/008.


The images in our collection leave no scientific discipline untouched. As a quick browse through the Picture Library reveals, we take a similar approach in what we upload, acknowledging the value in everything we encounter – be it watercolour, worm, or (in the above instance) both.


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