The Laboratory as Stage: Giovan Battista della Porta’s Experiments Cover Image
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The Laboratory as Stage: Giovan Battista della Porta’s Experiments
The Laboratory as Stage: Giovan Battista della Porta’s Experiments

Author(s): Sergius Kodera
Subject(s): Philosophy
Published by: Zeta Books
Keywords: Giovan Battista Della Porta; Magia naturalis; Baroque culture;

Summary/Abstract: Th is article surveys the vast range of diff erent literary genres to which Giovan Battista Della Porta (1535-1615) contributed; it thereby encompasses not merely Porta’s contributions to a specifi c form of science, his numerous texts on physiognomics and his infl uential Magia naturalis , but also his no less prolifi c literary production for the theater, since I argue that his scientifi c production can best be understood when viewed alongside it. In fact, when read together, these diff erent orientations his work took represent an amazingly coherent form of early modern thought--although one remarkably diff erent from later forms of science in that it constitutes a kind of performative natural philosophy, which I call scienza. Th is article, therefore, presents Porta less as a forerunner of modern science, instead situating his work for the laboratory as well as for the stage in the context of a peculiar form of theatricality. In short, Porta’s magus emerges as a very peculiar kind of stage director--an expert in the manipulation of appearances and audiences, and a dexterous creator of marvels. His practice echoes the very modes of dissimulation that were characteristic for the social comportment of a courtier in Baroque culture. Th e following article develops these ideas by pointing to some specifi c examples, namely Porta’s histrionic use of the magnet as described both in the second edition of the Magia naturalis (1589) and in some of his comedies, and his method of gathering and displaying fragmented parts of the human body for his work on palmistry (written between1599 and 1608).

  • Issue Year: 2014
  • Issue No: 1
  • Page Range: 15-38
  • Page Count: 24
  • Language: English