Natural Philosophy #9 England’s Leonardo

The explosion of genuine science in17th century England ranged from gazing outwards towards the stars to squinting inwards at the minute details of the natural world. From the telescope to the microscope and from Isaac Newton to Robert Hooke, many wonders of our existence were revealed across a few short years. I’m willing to bet that many of you will have heard of Newton, some will know a little of his Laws of Motion, but that very few will have heard of Hooke and his work/discoveries!

I’ll skip the details of his life, except to say that he was born into a relatively poor family in 1635 and died wealthy and famous in 1703. In between he became assistant to the (initially) more famous and mega wealthy Robert Boyle, became a Fellow of The Royal Society and then its curator of experiments in 1662. He worked in many varied fields of science including astronomy, optics/light (in which he had massive disputes with Newton over the nature of light being particles or waves) and the mechanics of elasticity. I remember vividly covering all of these things in school physics, but I do NOT remember anything of a couple of things he is rightly renowned for.

Robert Hooke worked tirelessly with Christopher Wren in the rebuilding of London after the great fire in 1666, and this earned him fame and fortune. His surveys and architectural drawings account for at least half of the new buildings created, although his artistic abilities had been revealed a year earlier as he built and developed microscopes to explore the miniature world of micro-organisms.

Micrographia, Robert Hooke, pub. 1665

Hooke’s book Micrographia became the worlds first science “best seller” in which he introduced us to the term biological cell. As you look at some of the artwork from Micrographia below, be aware that these are Hooke’s drawings and not photographs. Unsurprisingly they led to him subsequently being called “England’s Leonardo”


Categories: Natural Philosophy

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6 replies

  1. to be mentioned in the same breath as Michaelangelo is high praise indeed…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Amazing illustrations

    Liked by 1 person

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