Figures of the Invisible: Geometrical Icons in Early Modern Christianity


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships




This project explains why several prominent humanist reformers between 1400 and 1600 incorporated curiously elaborate geometrical figures into their religious writings. The spare lines of their intricate circles and triangles suggest an iconoclastic predilection in learned circles parallel to the actual destruction of images by contemporary Protestants. Such "geometrical icons" betray a desire for indubitable, mathematical certainty amidst the confusion and doubt of ecclesiastical reform. In order to interpret these figures within the religious culture of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it is helpful to compare them to Byzantine icons and to medieval mystical visions. In all three instances religious images render the invisible as visible in ways that circumvent mediating authorities and texts and thus implicitly challenge institutional power. In this way the project rethinks the connections between reform, visuality and science in early modern Christianity.