a Martedì 13 Giugno 2023
The Late Middle Ages are hardly singled out for consideration in the histories of optics, and score only slightly better as it comes to natural philosophy and perception theories at large. At a first glance, the science of sight and light – perspectiva – appears to have persisted unvaried throughout the centuries running from Roger Bacon to Leonardo da Vinci, not to say Kepler. A closer investigation, however, reveals a quite different story.
As the conference intends to show, between the mid-thirteenth and the fifteenth century perspectiva turned from a minor discipline, “taught in Oxford only twice and never so far in Paris” (as Bacon bemoaned), into a mandatory subject for most universities curricula. Many factors concurred to this shift in status. The Late Middle Ages saw crucial changes in the understanding of sight and light, with far-reaching epistemological, metaphysical and even theological consequences. Sight and light – the most “spiritual” of all senses and of all physical phenomena – often provided a paradigm for cognition and for causation in general, and prime analogies for the divine. Indeed, the conference intends to show that for most Late Medieval intellectuals “perspective” was not just about the blending of rays or the function of the eyes, but expressed an all-encompassing world picture.
The conference investigates the manifold aspects and implications of this momentous transformations and the concurrent emergence of an “optical literacy” in both Latin and the vernaculars. To this end, the conference examines a diverse array of sources: scientific treatises, summae and encyclopaedias, commentaries on Aristotle and on the Sententiae, sermons and disputations. Its topics of enquiry are equally varied: geometrical optics and the physics of light, astronomy and meteorology, human and animal perception, spiritual cognition while on Earth and in the Empyrean.
By means of this multifocal and interdisciplinary approach, the conference intends to provide a fresh insight into the Late Medieval understanding of sight and light and their larger implications for the scientific and philosophical debates of the time.
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