Stephanie Leitch will speak at the Seminar in Renaissance and Early Modern Material Culture on Wednesday, March 4, at 6 pm. Her talk is entitled “Vernacular Viewing: Searchable Science and Visual Tools in Early Modern Books.”

The sixteenth-century printing press codified disciplines of knowledge by distilling available information into visual tools. By presenting data in useable and searchable formats, printers and printmakers frequently rewired the emphasis of older genres. For instance, the pseudo-Aristotelian Book of Secrets was updated and organized into the more marketable genres of complexion literature, physiognomy, and cosmography. This talk argues that the trajectory by which ancient knowledge domains became how-to skills can perhaps best be tracked in a codex produced in southwestern Germany c. 1524, which seamlessly imported images from a variety of printed genres. The manuscript’s compiler merged information from books advertising designs for bridle bits for horses, tools for field surgery, manuals of musical instruments, and artists’ model books on the strength of their visual kinship and the degree to which images were critical to their argumentation. In transposing the images from these printed books, the manuscript aimed to make their data searchable and useful. This talk will shed light on early modern cross-referencing and collecting practices, as well as the role of printed books in shaping the visual horizon of the vernacular viewer.


Stephanie Leitch (pronounced LEACH) is Associate Professor of Art History at Florida State University. Her publications include Mapping Ethnography in Early Modern Germany: New Worlds in Print Culture (Palgrave, 2010), which won the 2011 Bainton prize in art history from the Sixteenth Century Studies Society. This year, she’s been at work on an ALCS funded book project on the Epistemology of the Copy in Early Modern Travel Narratives with collaborators Lisa Voigt of Ohio State University and Elio Brancaforte of Tulane.

This talk comes from her current book project, Vernacular Viewing: the Art of Observation in the Early Modern Print. This book explores the ambitions of early printed books to perform organizational work and sharpen visual acuity. It hopes to show how the visual accompaniments of developing how-to genres, such as cosmography and physiognomy, strategized to coach viewing practices, cue observation, and calibrate sightings.


This event will be livestreamed. Please check back the day of the event for a link to the video. To watch videos of past events please visit our YouTube page.