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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1982 History of Holes series #44 Follow Me on Pinterest

Sunspot hole
The composition of the sun remained basically hidden to scientists until relatively recently–certainly it was well into the 20th century before astronomers/astrophysicists got a good idea of what the sun is, exactly. The perfection of god's creation and Aristotle's unchanging nature of the sun must've been suspected for a long time given its coronal displays during total eclipse and ancient unaided observation of sunspots (which at least suggested that the sun rotated), but the true nature of the "imperfect" nature of the star wasn't firmly exhibited until the work of Thomas Harriot and the Fabricus and Galileo and Scheiner–but then there wasn't that much that could be employed from the data. So too true even with Bunsen and Kirchhoff in their profound invention and discovery in 1859 of the spectrographic analysis of the sun revealing its chemical composition (finding the absorption lines in the spectrum of the sun contained hydrogen,m nicekl, iron, sodium,cacium, and magnesium as starters)–this information was essential in establishing discoveries that would come much later on. (Interesting to note here that the first record of a solar flare is made in this same year by Richard Carrington, and also that this year saw the publication of On the Origin of Species as well as Riemann's hypothesis and Maxwell's kinetic theory of gases–a big year in the history of science).

The interesting hypothesis of sunspots as "holes" in the surface of the sun was made by Alexander Wilson (professor of astronomy at the University of Glasgow) in his paper "Observations on the Solar Spots" on 1 January 1774 and published in the Philosophical Transactions (volume 64, pp 1-30, and available here). It was one attempt at an explanation for the mysterious black spots that also opened the door to the possibility of the sun being inhabited. The spots then would have been conical holes in the sun's photosphere, with the dark part coming from a glimpse of the interior (and presumably cooler) part of the sun.

From the vantage point here in the future this looked like not such a great idea, especially coming only a few years before the (1787) discovery by William Herschel that the sun and the rest of the solar system was in motion relative to the stars and was slowly moving towards a point in the contellation Hercules, which was an enormous scientific breakthrough as well as philosophical-theological chllenge, a cosmological "aha!" moment. That said, Mr. Herschel also held the view that sun spots were possibly cavities in the surface of the sun, the reasoning for which was very good and at times convincing in the absence of anything better, a pretty good product for its time

The beautiful image introducing this post was designed about a hundred years after the Wilson paper, and appeared in the prolific Amédée Guillemin's (1826-1893) The Sun (translated from the original French in 1875), and which is available in full text pdf from The Haiti Trust. Guillemin spends a chapter on sunspots and holes and presents a convicing history of the idea, and that according to Wilson and others the spots were cavities in a liquid globule envelope and revealed the solid mass of the sun "through a cloudy atmosphere with a grey tiny all around" (page 214).

The epilogue of Guillemin's book addresses the issue of life on the sun ("Is the Sun Inhabited?") and in his review Guillemin very plainly makes the case that it is "absolutely impossible to support life" on the sun due to the heat–presently. He qualifies his assessment finally by asking "Will it become habitable?", and responding that it was "very possible" (page 295), but that it would have to take place in a future where the rest of the planets and everything else has gotten colder.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1960

I was shocked to investigate this seemingly magically-produced engraving under magnification–it was a small piece of inset work used to illustrate an idea within a much larger overall engraving. The detail is about a 5% cropping of the full image:

Square detail982

It is a subset of this detail:

Square detail981
Which in turn is a detail from this beautiful work which is itself a four-by-four inch detail in a larger engraving, the footprint of an elevation of the Sepolcro di Caio Cestio, which was printed in 1840.

Square 983

The craftsman who produced this engraving incised 250 lines on one side of this 4-inch-square, then proceeded to incise another 250 lines on the other–or so. This means that there are something on the order of 62,000 (or thereabouts) squares produced by the draftsman in order to make a mostly-black background for the image.

The plan is for the pyramidal tomb of Caius Cestius who was a monied Roman who demanded that for the disbursement of his will to be complete had to have this tombstone built to himself in a prescribed period of time–mostly very quickly. The result has been captured by Piranessi and others–a very sharp-pointed pyramid about 130′ at its base and 145′ tall. When finished the builders incised their victory and documented it on the side of the pyramid so:

Opus absolutum ex testamento diebus CCCXXX, arbitratu (L.) Ponti P. f. Cla (udia tribu), Melae heredis et Pothi l(iberti). (“The work was completed, in accordance with the will, in 330 days, by
the decision of the heir [Lucius] Pontus Mela, son of Publius of the Claudia, and Pothus, freedman”.)

All I really wanted to comment on here though is the craftsmanship of producing this finely-lined and remarkable detail

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1948
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Astro art943

Given that today is the winter solstice I thought to have a look at some artwork or imagery depicting the sun. I went to bookcase where there were some astronomy books and plucked out one at random–it turned out to be Denison Olmsted’s (1791-1859) Practical Astronomy textbook sort of written for his 12 students at Yale in 1839 (and bound with Ebenezer Porter Mason’s Introduction to Practical Astronomy, which was a supplement published ten years later). Its a fine not-big/not-little book (320 pages plus Mason’s 135 pages), and it still reads pretty well. (There’s also a very sweet 16-page outline of the course he taught, breaking the lectures down into fairly small chunks. There’s an interesting part of lecture XII entitled “DANGERS” which addresses heat and cold and bad business that could come from “perturbations of the moon and planets” and comets, of course, particularly the one like the “threatening circumstances attending the great comet of 1843″. As it happens the only annotation made by the 19th century owner of this book was right here, in the danger section, where they wrote the word again followed by five check/whatever marks.

Astro art944
There would of course be images of the sun in the book, and so was found this lovely small woodcut within the astronomical image (above), measuring in real life at about 5mm. There are a lot of lines on the circumference of this tiny circle.

The “S” stands for Sun.

Astro art det
And another beautifully-design illustration from the same source:

Astro art945

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post in the History of Holes series

While looking through D. Guilmard's La Connaissance des Styles de l'Ornementation (published around 1860)–a work that is a sort of early clip-art assembly of aspects of bits and details of historical ornamentation from the Gothic to Louis XVI– I found several engravings of mirrors with some unusual detail. For some reason the Renaissance mirrors nearly all had a small white dot–a hole–in the center of their jet-black mirror surface. I imagine that this was a simple printing error, but I liked the idea of this spec of a mistake right in the middle of a dark field, in effect making a hole in the mirror, looking something like a light leak. It makes for an intriguing series of images.

Mirror a

Mirror b

Mirror c


Which is a detail (about 2×2 inches in life) from the full sheet, below

Mirror e938

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1893

Holes windows762
The series of posts on this blog, The History of Holes, has generated several sub-series, including the History of Filling Holes Up, and of course The Great Efficacy of Deciding the Differences Between Hole and Circles.

And now: Filling Holes Up.

This post really started as an exerecise in noticing invisible differences in old prints. Unfortunately I've lost the reference for the woodcut I'm working with tonight (a terrible thing losing it to nothingness), though I'm sure it is a book illustration and early 16th century, and I suspect that it is German, and I believe it would have appeared on the title page or very soon thereafter, possibly in the dedication of the work.

In the image we see the presentation of a book ( the book, the book in which the image appears), a large volume, bound probably in tooled pigskin with brass or wooden tacks on the covers, there to protect the volume over long usage. The scene itself probably depcits the book's author presenting his work to his patron, or to the decicatee of the work, the person who made the printing and publication possible–hence the author kneeling, presenting the work with two hands; the receiver is seated, and with a hat and wide collar, accepting the book in a noble posture, nobly, with one hand. (I wonder if the action is taking place in the bedroom, as would not be uncommon at the time–there is a tapestry pulled back and away from an enclosure to the left-rear of the patron. It could be a bed. But it is definitely a private room, what with the ceiling not much higher than headroom of the doorframe.)

What attracted my attention though were the windows and their double shutters. The word "window" goes back a long, deep way, mainly in Scandanavian languages, and there coming to mean, mostly, "hole" or "opening" in the ceiling (for fireplace smoke and ventilation). Noah Webster gives "window" a nice turn in the 1828 edition of his dictionary, defining the word as a "wind-door", which is poetic but not very much in keeping with the word's etymoloigcal history so far as I can tell.

The coverings for windows are natually as old as the window, though sometimes it received some very fancy covering–in Rome, for instance, there are examples of glass windows, though there the glass is largely opaque. But here, in this image, in the high Renaissance, the window coverings were wooden, which is a long way home from hide or cloth or other such material. It is a little curious to see the shutters opening inwards–I'm no window/fenestration/architectural expert, but it seems now in cozy memory that these sort of shutters are not usual to my experience of Renaissance interiors. (One quick source for looking at a number of these scenes is Jost Amman and Hans Sachs' Standebuch ("The Book of Trades"), published in 1568. It shows people at work at their craft, mostly inside; and of these dozens of woodcuts, when the windows are shown with coverings they are depicted with glass. When not, there is simply nothing to see–but being merchants, and these places being "stores" of a sort, there were probably exterior shutters fixed either at the top to provide an awning when open, or at the sides. )

In any event, it is always interesting to go back and look at familiar objects and images, and see what your brain comes up with with the newest iteration of recognition. I've known this print on-and-off for a long time, but I don't think I 've ever thought of it in terms of holes. Until today. And then it became a new image.

JF Ptak Science Books Poat 1871 [Part of a series on The History of Holes.]

“Water, Fire; Fire, Water; mutually, as it were, cherish one another; and by a certain unanimous consent, conspire to the Conservation of the Geocosm, or Terrestrial World.”–A. Kircher, Mundus Subterraneus, 1665 (quoting a source on the University of Oklahoma library blog, here.)

Kircher hole_edited-1[Detail from the image below.]

The great Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) pride of the Jesuits (and a member of the Collegio Romano, where he also was curator of the natural history collection there) and very forward thinker, was a prolific writer of vast ideas, thought about teh origins and circulation of water (among many other things) in his semi-encyclopedic Mundus Subterraneus (1665). The Mundus–one of Kircher's forty books–was one of the most beautiful books produced in the 17th century, and was chock-filled with ingenuity and insight and good thinking that went everywhere, though some of that "everywhere" went nowhere. In any event the man reached very high in an absolutely varied way, writing in the fields of language, optics, astronomy, geology, chemistry, math, magnetism, music, zoology and so on through the alphabet of wonder.

Kircher hole
In this case, Kircher worked on the problem of water–where it came from, where it went, and how the process unfolded, which was part of an overall theory of the physical construction of the Earth. Kircher's idea–which relative to other theories of the time was pretty scientific–was that the Earth was a solid mass save for interludes of caves and pockets of water and fire. The fire ('pyrophylacia") represented the origins of earthquakes and volcanoes, and was complemented by a system of underground lakes and rivers ("hydrophylacia") which was the basis for the movement of all water

The "holes" part of this post comes in right now, as we see in the engraving that depicts polar portal for water to descend into, great holes (like Spongebob Squarepant's encounter with the main drain of the oceans) that allowed the water to continue its endless migration. Water would rise and fall in accordance with the tides, which would act as the power source for raising water to mountainous heights, where it would start its life again, flowing down via creeks and streams into lakes and rivers and then to the ocean where it would ultimately make its way to some severe maelstrom, and down into the Earth to come back up again. And I think that the primum mobile for this action was the wind produced by the interaction of the fire and water.

I'm unsure thus far about the placement of this primal hole.

Next: Descartes Firehole.

Below: images of the fire- and water-based subterranean worlds of necessity to Kircher's geocosm.


Kirhcer pyro

Kircher water

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1830 Part of the series on the History of Holes. (Apologies for no-para spacing–Typepad is buggy again.)

A beautiful and inventive way of addressing issues of perspective and un-reality in the centuries before the introduction of electricity was more able to suspend belief in the existing/obvious was via the catopticum1. This object (an example of which is pictured below, taken from the oddball/genius/problematic polymath Athanasius Kircher in his book Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae2 printed in 1676), and the name of which is taken from the Greek katoptron, mirror) was an advanced parlor toy and artwork, a sort-of primitive free-standing theatre of multiplied objects, a box that contained things that were seemingly larger than their container.

The catoptric theater. From Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae (1671 ed.), p. 776

Source: Kircher at Stanford University, here.

This image makes the “image engine” a little clearer:

Primeira PáginaPágina AnteriorDiminuir imagemImagem a 100%Aumentar imagemPróxima PáginaÚltima Página
desd [757 KB]
Source: Tratado da Catoptrica, (manuscript, 1716); from the Biblioteca Nacional Digital, here.
It’s a romance of images machine, a box of antique wonder, a peepshow of centuries before, putting more things into a space than could exist. It was a relatively simple machine of great ingenuity: the interior of the free-standing box with rows of holes along its top edge perpendicular to the ground, and was lined with mirrors (as shown above in the Spanish document), with some mirrors set of at 45% angles; when objects were placed within the imaging-area of the angled mirrors, the object was multiplied, and then multiplied over and over as a result of the surrounding mirrors, creating in effect a “hall of mirrors”, leaving the observer with a sense impression of many dozens of objects that were contained within a container that was impossibly too small for what was being seen.
This of course is a property of some holes–they tend to make things larger than they could previously possibly “be”.
In this case, the viewer would look through a hole into a Borgesian box which would contain a multitude of its possible interiors. Looking through a hole in the end of a glass and mirror-ended tube and pointing it at the sky at night would reveal an enormous multiplication of a small part of that sky. In the early case of Galileo, what was first seen with the telescope was the multiplication of what was believed to be a finite and god-granted sky of perfection–he was seeing into some other sky, into a new vault of heaven, something never before seen, above-and-beyond what was known to exist. Hooke and Louwenhoeck had a similar experience with their (second generation) microscopes, seeing details and life never before encountered, entire worlds in a place no bigger than the head of a pin.
Sometimes a hole is just a dark thing; but more often than not, it isn’t.

1. From the Greek, katoptron, mirror or pertaining to a reflected image or reflected light, such as from a mirror. There is another sort of catoptric that has been sort of widely used in antiquarian painting and parlor entertainments, which involves a canonical mirror reflecting a wide-field and distorted image into its proper perspective, which is known as catoptric anamorphosis. Another version of this sort of optic imaging is optical anamorphosis, which requires the viewer to stand at a particular (usually sharp) angle to a painting containing a semi-hidden image whose proper perspective is revealed only at a particular angle of viewing.

An example of catoptric anamorphosis, from the Kircher mentioned above:
anamorphosis - eagle

See here:
2. Ars Magna Lucis Et Umbrae In X. Libros digesta. Quibus Admirandae Lucis & Umbrae in mundo, atque adeo universa natura, vires effectusque uti nova, ita varia novorum reconditiorumque speciminum exhibitione, ad varios mortalium usus, panduntur. Editio altera priori multo auctior. The work is presented at Bibliodyssey, here.
Mr. P.K.hauls out a great quote and summarization of the work of Kircher by Robert Moray in his letter to the great guiding post of the Royal Society, Henry Cavendish, which really captures the spirit of the very busy/very curious and curious old man:
“Whatsoever Mr. Huygens & others say of Kircher, I assure you I am one of those that think the Commonwealth of learning is much beholding to him, though there wants not chaff in his heap of stuff composted in his severall peaces, yet there is wheat to be found almost every where in them. And though he doth not handle most things fully, nor accurately, yet yt furnishes matter to others to do it. I reckon him as usefull Quarries in philosophy and good literature. Curious workmen may finish what hee but blocks and rough hewes. Hee meddles with too many things to do any exquisitely, yet in some that I can name I know none goes beyond him, at least as to grasping of variety: and even that is not onely often pleasure but usefull.” (My bold.)
[Sir Robert Moray in a letter to Henry Oldenburg, 1665]

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1811

Sullivan arch548
In the History of Holes there exits a subcategory among many others that addresses holes in buildings and their filling-up. The "holes" of course must be openings for windows, and the filled-in bit are the windows themselves.

The great American architect Louis Sullivan designed a number of bank buildings large-on-the-small–really, quite small for banks–but outfitted them with some spectacular detail, some of which were the windows, and some of which worked. The size and scope of his (1914) Merchants National Bank, in Grinnell, Iowa, building is wonderful, though I've got to say that the enormous window in the facade and the crenulated baroque cartouche is really quite too much. I don't know where it all came from, but it seems as though it is from some other–much larger–building. The idea seems to work though on some of he other buildings in this "series" of small-but-involved bank buildings–his "Jewel Boxes"–and particularly with larger, half-circular windows, but not I think with his pinhole camera ocular god effort here.

Sullivan arch549

(There's plenty of time to discuss windows and holes and such outside of the work of Louis Sullivan's (1856-1924) "jewel boxes", and I can hardly wait to have a look at Edward Lutyen's (1869-1944) proposal for the massive neo-gothic Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, above, where the windows are most uncompromising, but that will keep for later. Don't look now, but that would have been the world's largest dome).

And some of the other Sullivan minor miracles, his "Jewel Boxes", can be seen below as they exist today. This first example, The Peoples Savings Bank in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was built in 1911. If you squint your eyes a bit you can see what this building was meant to be, though today it lives in a case of urban bits of blight and a massive block of a building that seems to be pushing the poor Sullivan building into the street.

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1782

There should or could be an enjoyable history written on the internal living history of the Earth, or Earths-within-the-Earth, because the idea is quite old, and latches itself like a good idea on top of a bad idea inside a decent idea. The end result though is not so great, but, given the longevity of the interior Earth idea and the people who perpetuated it over time, I would like to read a history of the thing, even if it went nowhere. I guess the history could be fiction and come out with almost the same result, but well, some of the happened-history is stranger than fiction.

I was brought to think about this by a patent granted to Herbet Francis Williams-Lyouns (British, 1863-1933). Lyouns was a painter but for some reason cooked up this idea for an international exhibition just before the year 1900. The patented idea was for a free-standing globe/sphere with a series of stairways that would get paying folks to a lighthouse at the top. From what I can tell the thing was to be 150 feet high or thereabouts–it is difficult to tell since there are no technical specifications in the patent itself. There was nothing really to suggest dimension and without physical specifications I'm not sure exactly what Lyouns was patenting, except for a big globe with a lighthouse on top that could be populated with a paying crowd.

It seems that Lyouns was patenting the idea for being able to ascend a hollow globe to a what would seem to be a redundant lighthouse (certainly there could have been some other structure a little more appropriate or crown-y) at the top, though I know I have seen several earlier visionary drawings about such a beast. One of these ideas belonged to Etienne Boullee (1728-1799), who designed a great hollow sphere for a cenotaph for Newton—Boullee however did not muck up the interior of his space with a massive stair structure, and kept it simple, with his folks milling about on the ground enjoying what was supposed to be an internal night sky. Some of the others are pre-patent era, though I do recall one of a hollowed-globe interior for viewing a moving diorama that was definitely of the patent era–perhaps that inventor simply didn't patent the apparatus.

[The interior of the Lyoun globe, which I guess represent a giant winding staircase.]

The Lyoun bit also reminds me of the Crystal Palace of 1851–rather, of a cartoon for the Crystal Palace, featuring the Palace at the top of a globe that was fully and completely, falling-off-the-sides inhabited. Which makes it a bit different from the globe of Lyoun, which seems as though it could've been inhabited on the inside, only, and which steers us exactly to the opposite (?) of the Earth's-Interior-Earth business. After all, I started talking about other stuff and civilizations living underground, inside the Earth, possibly inside a massive hollowed out section of the Earth.

(Finding the top of the world was easier in 1851–at least to this illustration, showing the Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition of 1851 sitting firmly in place above all. I can imagine that if you were sitting in Hyde Park along with the 1851-foot long building, it would be easy to think that you were indeed at the top of the food chain. The structure was the crowning achievement of the Exhibition: it was almost one million feet under iron and wood and glass, and could hold tens of thousands of people who could view the enormous gardens housed there.)

I'm talking about Jules Verne and his journey to the center of the Earth, and H.G. Well's Morlocks, and a dim memory of Superman's Mole Men, and E.R. Burrough's Pellucidar sitting at some great depth below the Earth, and on and on, back into the misty past, past hollow Earth theories of even some great men like Edmond Halley, and back into mythological and anthropological stories of great antiquity. But those stories will have to wait for a later tell.

Boulle newton

[Boullee's cenotaph for Newton.]

One bit I'd like to point out is this extraordinary leap of imagination, an actual map of the interior civilization of the Earth provided by William R. Bradshaw to the readers of his Goddess of Atvatabar, which was published in 1892. The story itself seems terribly purple and looks like a very difficult read–but the pictures are interesting in their own rippling ways. And then there's the case of the map–one of the very few I can think of that depict a civilization inside our own homey Earth. (I'd mention others but I can't think of any straight away.)

Map of the Interior World. [Map of the Interior World, William Bradshaw.]

Another example of a map of interior Earths was brought to my attention by Rebekah Higgitt (of the excellent Teleskopos blog ), who sent me to the Petri Dish blog (of Katherine Pandora, and her post "Hollow Heads, Science, Fantasy, and What's as Plain as the Earth Beneath our Feet") and the internal Earth of WIlliam Reed (in 1906, illustrating his Phantom of the Poles):

Reed's Hollow Earth

And yet a third example, making my way through the Petri Dish article and found at the website of Engines of our Ingenuity by John Lienhard (from his post 2180, "Hollow Earth"):

Americus Symmes' Hollow Earth

[Symmes' Hollow Earth published long after his death by his son, Americus Symmes.]

And then another example, this from Marshall B. Gardiner, A Journey to Earth's Center. 1920, which also shows the interior "central sun":

And a cross-section of the Earth from Gardiner:

The literature of this hollow Earth business is very wide and long and not very deep, and includes a fair amount of scientific-y whoo whoo. The sci-fi part of it looks mor eintereting, though from the little that I have read now most of it is very tight-fisted in the good-writing department.

This maps talk excludes Inferno maps like the following, for example–obviously–as there are many:

Blog--feb 9--dante

The classic sort of image may be something like this fantastic depiction of the Inferno of Dante (shown here in the Comedia published in Venice by Gregorio de Gregoriis in 1515.

I should guess that there's ample room for a collection of inner-Earth civilizations, and perhaps that will come to pass.

A few more of the patent images for the Lyouns patent:

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