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c. 1745- 1765
Gilt bronze mounts
Overall: 28.6 x 15.4 x 11.5 cm (11 1/4 x 6 1/16 x 4 1/2 in.)
Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1974.15
Microscopes, especially ones as elaborate as this example, were luxurious symbols of enlightened aristocratic sophistication in the 1700s.
Composed of elaborate gold-plated parts, this microscope is not just a decorative work of art; it is also a functional tool for scientific inquiry. Its ornamentation reflects the intermingling of art and science during the European Enlightenment, an era when scholars emphasized the study of science and reason as a means of social and intellectual progress. The two lenses of a compound microscope allow for better focus and magnification, making it easier for scientists—amateur and professional alike—to look closer at a specimen to see more than can be seen by the naked eye. This microscope’s ornate decoration suggests it was probably owned by a wealthy person, possibly an amateur scientist.
A version of an 18th-century English poem playfully describes what can be newly seen with a microscope:
Great fleas have little fleas
Upon their backs to bite ’em
The little fleas have lesser fleas
And so ad infinitum.
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