YouTube for the 19th Century


I have an interest in old science illustrations. Part of what I love about them is that they illustrate how science marches on by displaying what was the cutting edge understanding of the world at the time. In hindsight, we have a privileged vantage point to recognize where the images either incomplete or quaintly misguided. Fortunately for all of us science is self-correcting and that is fun to trace through science images.

Open Culture reminded me that I have a fondness for another related group of art and illustration. I get a huge kick out of the writings, diagrams, and illustrations of fringe theorists. They are those who regardless of current scientific consensus, persistently shout about their alternate view of life, the universe, conspiracies, and everything. Open Culture put up some gorgeous images produced by a member of the Muggletonian religious sect from 1846. Half of the images describe why Isaac Newton (Copernicus, Galileo etc. etc.) was wrong. The other half illustrate the One True Cosmos per the Muggletonian view that they claimed are true thanks to scripture. The One True Cosmos Muggletonian view is charmingly wrong but makes gorgeous works of art.

Here is a description of the prints from George Glazer Gallery in New York:

A series of six astronomical engravings in tones of blue, white, yellow, and green, intended to demonstrate that the earth is at the center of the universe, based on planetary charts drawn by Isaac Frost, an artist and scientist associated with a Victorian sect known as the Muggletonians. They were engraved by Chubb & Son, London, and printed by George Baxter, who employed his innovative oil color printing technique that permitted subtle gradations and seamless transitions between colors for a glowing effect.

The art nerd in me was intrigued to hear about the color printing technique because my assumption was that they were hand colored like so many other engravings of the time. Those attractive teals and yellows should be consistent throughout the print runs. Like a lot of other engravings from earlier centuries, the prints were meant to be illustrations in a book rather than wall art. However, as we all know it became common for people to cut the plates out of periodicals and old books and frame them for display. (If you have or come across any antique books with great pictures, please don’t do this. Make a color copy instead.)

(End nerdy digression)

So my dream curiosity cabinet has a restricted section for irrational oddities like these prints. They are beautifully color-crafted engravings with striking compositions.

I am working on a series of pieces influenced by people who are doing this kind of stuff right now. My Pseudosphere Earth Theory project is a response to the baffling beliefs of flat Earth theorists and many other fringe opinions. Nowadays, everybody with a homespun view of the world and a moderate budget can disseminate it with very little sophistication. Occasionally, they produce documentaries that rival the polish of Hollywood studios or NASA’s animation team. I won’t make a very slick video but there will be a video–albeit a cheesy and awkward one.

Categories: Pseudoscientific artTags: , , , ,

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