Category: 1616Page 2 of 2

Following in the Footsteps of Nature

In my forthcoming book about the year 1616 I take that year as my anchor or home but move forward and back in time in telling its stories. The illustration above is from Atalanta Fugiens, 1618, by Michael Maier. Maier, along with Robert Fludd, was instrumental in promoting Rosicrucianism in England, which in turn laid the groundwork for the Freemason movement. The core Rosicrucian texts were all published in German in the second decade of the seventeenth century; the last of the three, a remarkable novelistic romance called Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz was published in 1616. Like Maier’s book, it is heavily influenced by alchemy.

Frances Yates, in The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, writes:

This is somewhat reminiscent of the preface dedicated by Giordano Bruno to Rudolph II when in Prague in 1588, reiterating his favourite theme, that one must study the vestiges or footprints left by Nature, avoiding the strife of religious sects and turning to Nature who is crying out everywhere to be heard.

Galileo’s sketches of the phases of the moon

Lately I have been working on a section of my 1616 book devoted to early modern science. So far I have been working on the segments on Kepler and Galileo, two very different personalities who vastly advanced astronomical knowledge.

This sepia drawing of the phases of the moon was found in a manuscript copy in Galileo’s hand of his Starry Messenger, the book that made him an international celebrity. In it Galileo reported his celestial observations with the telescope, a recent Dutch invention that he had refined and considerably improved, working with artisans of the Italian Veneto.  The manuscript is now in the National Library in Florence.

Although there seems to be no definitive proof that the drawing is by Galileo, it is usually thought to be either his original sketches made while looking into the telescope or else studio proofs that would serve as models for the engravings that appeared in the book itself. (Wikipedia will tell you it was made in 1616, but if it is indeed by Galileo must have been done around 1610, when The Starry Messenger was published.) In either case, it is rather beautiful.

But it didn’t seem that way to many people at the time. It was a shock and an affront to suggest that God’s heavenly objects were not perfect but pocked and roughened with craters and protuberances like some ordinary rock of the earthly realm. This would all come to a head when Galileo visited the pope in 1616


LINK: There is a detailed discussion of this document at


1616 and the Golden Age

My forthcoming book 1616 begins with an account of a masque performed at the court of King James and Queen Anne in Whitehall, London, called The Golden Age Restored. I am interested in the way the various cultures of the early seventeenth century defined themselves by reference to what they saw as the golden ages of the past. The following is a draft paragraph on this concept of the golden age. I’m a little uncertain about the Japan and Vietnam comments. I’m also unsure how the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals might have thought about this concept. Can any readers can provide insights into these questions?

Throughout the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries,  Western scholars, mindful of European success in colonizing other areas, viewed Europe as historically exceptional, developing in radically different ways from other regions. The West was seen as more dynamic, rational, and democratic than any part of Asia, for example, which was portrayed as monolithic and despotic, unchanging across centuries. But in fact the early seventeenth century was a time of enormous change in most regions of the world, change largely driven by a new maritime globalism that accelerated trade and exchange of goods and ideas. In the face of such unsettling changes, many cultures looked back nostalgically to earlier times as “golden ages,” and these eras served also as models legitimizing emerging states that were consolidating regions once made up of numerous small, independent principalities. (In Europe five or six hundred poliical units would eventually merge into just a couple of dozen; in mainland Southeast Asia a couple of dozen states would resolve into just three; and so on. This consolidation was the result in large part of the new availability of firearms and cannonry, which compounded the political advantages of centers of wealth.) While Renaissance Europe looked back to ancient Rome, Ming China looked back to the pre-Mongol Song dynasty as a golden age, Tokugawa Japan to the Kamakura and Muromachi periods, Romanov Muscovy to early Orthodox Christian Kiev Rus, Burma to Pagan, Siam to Angkor, and the Vietnamese states to early Confucian Dai Viet. During this period artists, writers, and political leaders throughout the world struggled between evolving new forms and respecting the models of the glorious past.

1616: The plan

1616 - table of contents spread

I’m designing and typesetting my book as well as writing it. I requested this assignment from my publishers, and I’m glad they agreed. I felt that I know the book best, and I have the skills, so why not? The exception is the cover — I suggested they get a different designer to do that. I felt a fresh take might be beneficial there.

The publisher accepted the book on the basis of the preface, prologue, first two chapters, and a part of the third. That means I still have about 5/8ths or more of the book still to write. Above is the table of contents spread as it stands now. The trim size, which I suggested, is 7.25 x 10 inches. I didn’t want it to be so big that it seemed like an art book, but I wanted it to be bigger than the standard significant trade title, which is often around 6 x 9 or 6.25 x 9.25. There are a lot of images in my book, and a lot of material in the form of sidenotes (a favorite element, which I am also using extensively in the Bali catalogue I’m currently designing for the Asian Art Museum).

The image is a detail for a manuscript of the Razmnama (from 1616–1617). The Razmnama is a Persian translation of the Mahabharata, one of the great Hindu epics. I am trying to get a good diversity of different cultures represented in the book, since it represents a very global view of the year 1616. (I’m doing maps as globes from different perspectives — more on that later.)

Here’s the current TOC text close up. We’ll see how this changes a year from now when the final pages have to be delivered. The typeface is Garamond Premier Pro, my current favorite.

1616 - table of contents chapter by chapter

1616: The World in Motion accepted for publication

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="435" caption="Colf Players on the Ice, ca. 1620­–1625, by Hendrick Avercamp. Edmund and Sally Speelman Collection. "]
avercamp: colf[/caption]

Now that I have a preliminary commitment from a publisher I feel I can finally talk about my new book, tentatively planned for publication in fall-winter 2011 from Counterpoint Press. It’s basically a global history of the world in the year 1616.

Why 1616? In a way the year is more or less random, and looking intently at any one year would probably turn out to be interesting. But 1616, though in some ways more of an average year than an earthshaking one, falls right at the cusp when the world was teetering toward modernity. With a regular trade now established between Asia and the Americas via the Pacific the final piece in a true global economy was in place. Obviously I will have more to say on this topic.

The image above is by Hendrick Avercamp, a Dutch painter specializing in ice scenes. 1616 fell during the global cooling called the Little Ice Age. That cooling was a factor leading to the destabilization and fall of China’s Ming empire. I could go on …