Evening News: Optics, Astronomy, and Journalism in Early Modern Europe

By Eileen Reeves | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Cameras That Don’t Lie

The early impression of the telescope and its precursors as analogues of the newsletter would undergo various revisions as both the optical instrument and the journalistic medium developed. This chapter examines the fiction of a modified version of the telescope—one adapted for use in the camera obscura—as the ideal and objective transmitter of news, a notion of particular appeal to ambassadors abroad. The text that best exemplifies this fantasy, Henry Wotton’s letter to Francis Bacon describing the use Johannes Kepler made of such a device in 1620, while well known to historians of science and of art, has been analyzed neither in terms of its historical context, the grim aftermath of the defeat of Protestant forces at the Battle of White Mountain, nor with particular regard to its author’s own varied career as an ambassador.1

In this reading, Wotton’s discussion of the camera obscura centers on the fundamental relationship of optical issues to the problematic reportage of foreign affairs, and is informed by some knowledge of meditations on both the dark room and pinhole apertures made in this period by Protestant and Catholic astronomers. Their observations were in turn often characterized by references to the great confessional conflict that would be the Thirty Years’ War, such that the ideal of an objective machine for recording neutral data about either the natural or the political world seemed in 1619–1620 at once the most useful and the most suspect of notions. In this and the following chapter, therefore, I will address that implicit transfer of faith from the tubus emmissitius, or “prying glass,” to the tubus immissitius,2 where visual data were projected through the telescope into a dark room, as through the eye onto the retina, in terms of the problem of accurate reportage and subsequent interpretation of current events.

Broadly speaking, these two chapters will examine a number of early modern references to the camera obscura in terms of recent adaptations of

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Evening News: Optics, Astronomy, and Journalism in Early Modern Europe
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Jesuits on the Moon 29
  • Chapter 2 - Medici Stars and the Medici Regency 57
  • Chapter 3 - Galileo Gazzettante 101
  • Chapter 4 - Cameras That Don’t Lie 135
  • Chapter 5 - Cameras That Do 165
  • Chapter 6 - Rapid Transport 206
  • Conclusion 231
  • Notes 235
  • Bibliography 273
  • Index 303
  • Acknowledgments 307
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