Aestimatio 11 (2014) 100-106

Artisan/Practitioners and the Rise of the New Sciences, 1400–1600
Pamela O. Long


Steven A. Walton

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

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1 Comment

Comment by Pam Long

I would like to address two points.

The first is that on page 101 of the review, Walton states that:

“the body of evidence she uses is overwhelmingly from non-artisans. To overstate the case: it is like asking the 1% what they think about the 99%”

This is simply not true.

Let’s take a look at chapter 3 on the Vitruvian tradition. The main figures I discuss can be divided into workshop trained (artisans): Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Antonio Averlino called Filarete, Francesco di Giorgio, and Cesare Cesariano; university educated: Alberti and Sulpizio; and unknown, but easily spanning both worlds: Giovanni Giocondo. Leaving out Giocondo, this would be five with artisan backgrounds, two with university backgrounds.

I would guess from my own work and from the work of others that writings about practical and technical subjects in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are divided about equally between artisanally trained individuals and those from other backgrounds. Without a statistical census, a precise number is not available.

The second point is to correct a misreading.

Walton cites a passage that concerns the issue of who might find books on mining and ore processing of interest. The passage that he cites is exactly as follows, using his elisions and added italics:

“books on mining, ore processing, and metallurgy were written for princes and a far-flung group of investors . . .[and] set out many technical processes in written form . . .  The books described with great clarity technical operations and equipment [and included] illustrations . . . essential for making complex machinery comprehensible, but they also made the mechanical arts of mining and metallurgy dramatically appealing to the unskilled.”[112, Walton’s emphasis added]

Walton then writes: “It would be fascinating to find a miner who needed the text or the illustration to make his machinery comprehensible (she is conflating audiences).”

But in this passage I am not referring to a readership of miners who work the mines or to working metallurgists at all. I am referring to unskilled mine investors—people from various other walks of life, usually more elite than miners and metallurgists, who do not actually work in mining or metallurgical operations, but who have purchased shares in the mine, and who, I propose, would find writings on mining and metallurgy, especially those lavishly illustrated, pleasurable and informative.

This seems clear even from the partial passage that Walton cites. And I should add, that throughout the book, I refer to the unskilled learned and the unlearned skilled. I use the phrase “unskilled learned” to underscore the point that although skill and learning may be different, they are each in their own way important. (The usual procedure is to emphasize that artisan-trained individuals were not “learned,” and to not mention at all the equally relevant fact that university educated individuals were not “skilled.”) A major theme of the book concerns how, especially from the sixteenth century, the two groups of people often drew closer together, communicated with one another, and shared their respective areas of knowledge.