Scientist of the Day - Giovanni Battista della Porta
Giovanni Battista della Porta, an Italian polymath, died Feb. 4, 1615. Porta was one of the last defenders of what was called Renaissance "natural magic", based on the belief that the world is an intricate web of correspondences, and that objects that are attuned, or sympathetic, to one another, can affect each other. Astrology was a part of natural magic, as was alchemy, and numerology, and even music theory (since two objects were considered "attuned" when harmonic ratios like 4/3 could be used to describe them).
One of Porta’s most interesting works espousing this “magical world view” was his De humana physiognomonia (1586), in which he demonstrated how to read the features of a person’s face (and character) by noting resemblances to the features of animals. The book is heavily illustrated with engravings comparing human faces to those of greyhounds, bulls, monkeys, cats, asses, lions (as we see in the images above) and many other animals. The engraved title page (fourth image above) is a clever introduction to the work, as the human and animal faces are here separated by the portrait of della Porta, who will then bring them together within the book proper.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City