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Writing on Hands: Memory and Knowledge in Early Modern Europe


"...the hand is the instrument of instruments." Aristotle, De Anima, 3.8


Writing on Hands: Memory and Knowledge in Early Modern Europe
focuses on the hand as a meeting place of matter, mind, and spirit. More than eighty images, dating primarily from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, concern the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge from such diverse realms as anatomy, psychology, mathematics, music, rhetoric, religion, palmistry, and alchemy. In addition, the exhibition addresses the relationship between the hand and the brain, sensory perception, the rhetoric of gesture, early forms of finger-spelling for the deaf, morality, and spirituality. On view are miniatures, prints, and drawings that are inscribed with, or surrounded by, natural marks, such as lines or creases, or artificial ones, including letters, numbers, words, or symbols. In each the inscribed hand serves as a visual prompt to the intellect or the memory of the viewer. Indeed, this exhibition reintroduces early modern conceptual frameworks for learning, remembering, and recalling practical and abstract concepts by means of the hand.

Claire Richter Sherman, curator of Writing on Hands, states that "throughout the exhibition, images of the hand play a vital role in interpreting the search for achieving knowledge of the self and interpreting universal human experience."