Grosseteste meets York Stained Glass Studies

Bishop_Robert_Grosseteste,_1896_(3x4crop)Tom McLeish was invited last week (November 1st) to hold a seminar on Grosseteste’s colour science  with the University of York’s History of Art Department’s Stained Glass Studies Group.  So here (right) is a stained-glass representation of the Bishop to start with.

Tom, an original member of the Ordered Universe project right from the very early days in Durham, has recently joined the University of York as its new Chair of Natural Philosophy.  Although based in Physics, the role has time allocated to the

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Kings Manor of the University of York, the home of its Centre for Medieval Studies

University’s long-standing Centre for Medieval Studies, as well, which is now a partner of the project. The Centre is accommodated in Kings Manor, the former abbot’s house of St. Mary’s Abbey (now ruined) close to the Minster, Museum, Library and Art Gallery in the centre of the city.

The natural starting point for the Kings Manor seminar was Grosseteste’s De colore, his treatise, probably from the mid 1220s that develops his natural philosophy of light into a theory of colour.  Early in the Ordered Universe project’s life we had studies this jewel of a treatise, and found it to be structured in a highly mathematical way. It constitutes the first description of an abstract three-dimensional space for colour.Dimensions of Colour book_ These insights, together with a fresh edition and translation and interdisciplinary commentary, formed the first ‘pilot’ publication from the project, Dimensions of Colour, back in 2013. in only 400 Latin words, Grosseteste carefully identifies colour as the effect of light incorporated in a diaphanous medium, and describes three ‘axes’ along which colour can vary independently. Crucially, two of these depend on properties of light and one on the material within which the light dwells – its ‘purity’ or ‘impurity’. This is turn is related to the quantity of ‘earthiness’ (earth is the only non-translucent of the four Aristotelian elements). The final paragraph of the treatise contains an invitation to try out making colours with different lights and materials, and is one of the pieces of evidence pointing to Grossteste’s involvement in the very early stirrings of experimental tradition.

York stained glass scholar Sarah Brown, who led the scholarly work behind the recent 10-year restoration of York Minster’s Great East Window, was led to think about glass-making right away by this paragraph. Might Grosseteste have witnessed the manufacture of glass?  If so this would not have been in England, but in northern France. Does a thread from light through colour and glass constitute another line of evidence that leads to a presence for him in France in the early 13th century?

The discussion also moved onto lenses and lens making in that era, of which no doubt there will be more news on this blog at a future date…

 

Colour Vision Workshop in Durham

News of a workshop on colour vision taking place at Durham University this week,  in the Department of Psychology organised by Rebecca Wedge-Roberts.  The workshop will explore the subject with papers and discussion from Psychology, Anthropology, Continue reading

Back To (Easter) School

For the 2017–18 academic year, the Ordered Universe Project has continued its partnership with OxNet, an outreach scheme superintended by Pembroke College, Oxford. So far this year, students from local schools have attended evening seminars taught by leading academics from Durham and Sunderland Universities, and now those students have been invited to spend two days at Durham University to get a taste of university life while continuing to explore some of the topics that are closest to the hearts and minds of the members of the Ordered Universe Project.

Continue reading

Swansea: Rainbows and Colour

Last week, Thursday 23rd and Friday 24th November, Ordered Universe members were made very welcome at the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Research, and the Department of History at Swansea University.  Continue reading

Illuminating Colour: A Guided Tour

1P5B8805For those that haven’t yet managed to get to the National Glass Centre in Sunderland, we have here a guided tour to the exhibition by Cate Watkinson and Colin Rennie. Rosie Reed Gold took the photographs, adding another level of interpretation to the movement from 13th century Latin manuscripts, to editions and translations, to textual analysis (by Continue reading

Illuminating Colour – Now Open

Last night saw the launch of Illuminating Colour, a new exhibition from Cate Watkinson and Colin Rennie at the National Glass Centre, University of Sunderland. The exhibition, as readers of this site will know, grew from a collaborative initiative with the Ordered Universe project, Through a Glass Darkly. The exhibition emerged from a series of meetings, collaborative readings, knowledge exchange sessions (learning about glass, living medieval manuscripts), glass-making, planning and exhibits within the Being Human Festival, all of which took place over the last 18 months. Students and staff from Durham, Sunderland and Oxford, as well as the international collaborators from Ordered Universe, have all taken part and contributed, Artists Alexandra Carr, Ross Ashton, Alan Fentiman and Rosie Reed Gold have also been involved from their different media expertise.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is Cate and Colin’s work. Taking Grosseteste’s treatises On Colour and On the Rainbow as the principal inspiration, alongside his thinking on light and other meteorological phenomena, the works have come together over the last year. It has been an enormous privilege to watch this happen, and, at some level, to have been involved. The imagination, craft, skill depth of experience and curiosity to experiment are both mind-blowing and inspiring. The exhibition dwells profoundly on Grosseteste’s statement that ‘Light is colour embodied in a transparent medium’. The end of that treatise, On Colour, invokes the fact that those who are especially skilled can manipulate the medium to make whatever colour they like. This description is applied justly to Cate and Colin, and the pieces they have created.

Illuminating Colour finishes on 11th March 2018, so there is plenty of time to come and visit, and what a reason (if any were needed), to come to the North-East. This is also only the beginning of the collaboration, so stay tuned for further cross-disciplinary exploration of the universe in which we live and how we explain and perceive it. The exhibition is supported by the University of Sunderland, the National Glass Centre, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Durham University and the Ordered Universe project. For those that couldn’t be there last night – some images and a periscope tour of the exhibits – but do come and see the real things!

 

 

The Ordered Universe of UBC, Vancouver

Friday last saw the Ordered Universe project hosted at a very civilised Dinner-and-Lecture evening at St. Johns College, University of British Columbia, in Vancouver. medbigbangvancouver

Tom McLeish, Co-investigator of the project had been in the Vancouver area all week on a lecture tour organised by the Canadian Science and Christian Affiliation (CSCA). After four events based around his book Faith and Wisdom in Science, as well as several science seminars (in Simon Fraser University and UBC itself), this last event, as all others organised by long-suffering and ever-kind host Gordon Carkner, focussed in on the unique collaboration of humanities scholars and scientists digging deeply together into the natural philosophy of Robert Grosseteste.

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St John’s Graduate College, UBC

A Medieval Big-Bang Theory: An Interdisciplinary Tale, began with a personal story about Tom’s first encounter with Grosseteste, from Jim Ginther’s regular HPS seminars at Leeds in the 1990s, then his astonished reading of the treatise on light, the De luce, the summer before his move to Durham in 2008, where he met up with medieval historian and theologian (now project PI) Giles Gasper.  The seminar then covered the technical content of Grosseteste’s light-expanded cosmos, and the corollary of his material physics of light – the theory of colour in the De colore and the De iride (on the rainbow).  The invited audience of students, faculty and members of CSCA had enthusiastically reserved 2 hours for the  event (!), so it was possible to go into some detail on the delicate interplay of scientific analysis, textual and philosophical work.

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Grosseteste’s rainbow co-ordinates mapped onto perceptual colour plane by H. Smithson

 

As ever, the participants were surprised and delighted to hear about the new science that the project has produced, as well as its insights and scientific commentary on 13th century treatises.  Tom managed to fit in both the three-dimensional mathematical structure of the colour space Grosseteste constructs in the De colore, and the new ‘rainbow mapping’ of colour space that this, accompanied by work on his De iride inspired, later published in the Journal of the Optical Society of America.

FaWis_450Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the context of this event, however, was the invitation from the hosts to situate the project findings in the twin theological contexts of Grosseteste’s day and ours. Our medieval polymath tends to stick to science in his science texts, but from other important works such as the Hexameron, and the Commentary on the Posterior Analytics, we know that he has a developed theological purpose for studying nature to the end of understanding it.  He sees the process of induction from our sense data and intellect as a long and slow process of reawakening that insight and close relationship with nature that humankind was created to have in the first place, but lost through the turning away from its Creator in the Fall.  At this point the medieval science work dovetails into the thesis Tom has been developing in Faith and Wisdom in Science (click though for book and blog) for a healthier modern narrative for science.  The idea of science as the means to a healed relationship with nature strikes important late modern chords, as well as resonating with the philosophy of earlier ages.  It’s an old story of purpose that we have forgotten and need to remember.

Questions were very rich and varied – including one that the questioner would have liked to pose to Grosseteste himself: ‘Why did God allow the perfection of the spheres to stop at the Moon, and not complete all the way through the cosmos?‘ Our Oxford Master was fond of alternative histories – he tackled the question of whether there would have been an incarnation without a Fall, after all.  But what would he have made of a universe of crystalline spheres ‘all the way down’ (which is precisely what one of Prof. Richard Bower’s early simulations of his cosmogenesis physics in the De luce produced!). To be discussed…[Giles says: ‘Perfectness can’t re-create perfectness, otherwise it wouldn’t be perfect…’]

Medieval Rainbows at Cambridge Mathematics

The Cambridge University Mathematics Campus and one of its more famous denizens.
The Cambridge University Mathematics Campus and one of its more famous denizens.

Ordered Universe Co-investigator Tom McLeish was invited down to the Cambridge Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) to talk about the project in that famous institution’s regular ‘fluids’ seminar series. Continue reading

A very colourful evening at Oxford Castle

Oxford_Castle_in_1832OU logo large text 2015Hannah Smithson and Giles Gasper were privileged to give a talk last week in Oxford at the Oxford Castle Key Learning Centre, as part of the Westgate Talks series. The excavations beneath the Westgate shopping centre have uncovered the original Franciscan house, Greyfrairs, established in 1224, and for whom Grosseteste was the first lector. Continue reading