Microscope

Microscope

c. 1745- 1765

Gilt bronze mounts

Overall: 28.6 x 15.4 x 11.5 cm (11 1/4 x 6 1/16 x 4 1/2 in.)

Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1974.15

Fun Fact

Microscopes, especially ones as elaborate as this example, were luxurious symbols of enlightened aristocratic sophistication in the 1700s.

Description

Composed of elaborate gold-plated parts, this microscope is not just a decorative work of art; it is also a functional tool for scientific inquiry. Its ornamentation reflects the intermingling of art and science during the European Enlightenment, an era when scholars emphasized the study of science and reason as a means of social and intellectual progress. The two lenses of a compound microscope allow for better focus and magnification, making it easier for scientists—amateur and professional alike—to look closer at a specimen to see more than can be seen by the naked eye. This microscope’s ornate decoration suggests it was probably owned by a wealthy person, possibly an amateur scientist.

A version of an 18th-century English poem playfully describes what can be newly seen with a microscope:
Great fleas have little fleas
Upon their backs to bite ’em
The little fleas have lesser fleas
And so ad infinitum.

See also
Collection: 
Decorative Arts
Type of artwork: 
Metalwork

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