Keating: Between Machina and Anima: Early Modern Automata
My dissertation, Between Machina and Anima: Early Modern Automata, focuses on the production, collection, and reception of automata - self-propelled mimetic objects - in German princely "Wunderkammern" or cabinets of curiosities, in the sixteenth century. Automata captivated contemporary observers by virtue of their skilled construction, virtuoso artifice, and animation. As such, these objects occupy a key aesthetic category, one that has largely gone unstudied.
While the idea of an automaton has been treated repeatedly by historians of science and historians of technology, the actual sixteenth-century objects themselves have never been thoroughly studied in their own right. My dissertation offers a groundbreaking examination of the historical and phenomenological conditions of the making and appreciation of early modern automata. By surveying these self-propelled, mimetic objects through an art historical lens my dissertation departs from previous scholarship. Rather than approaching automata as rational, knowledge-bearing, technological achievements that epitomized the "Scientific Revolution", I analyze the ways in which automata engaged contemporaneous convictions about the manufacture and experience of art objects in the early modern period. The result is a new conception of how early modern individuals privileged particular forms of mimetic representations and certain types of manual labor that produced those forms.