Illumination: How the Visual Captures the Imagination (28 Sept – 19 Dec 2015)

from René Descartes Tractatus De Homine et De Formatione Foetus (1668)

This is an exhibition I’ve been thinking about for several years and was fortunate to have the opportunity to bring it to life. I was very pleased to be able to get loans from several external sponsors as well as the diversity of objects from across all of the Institute Libraries of the School of Advanced Study including the previous sketchbook of Aby Warburg from the Archives of the Warburg Institute and Library.

About the exhibition

How do ideas move from the mental to the physical? From centuries old vases and painted canvasses to books and the virtual, creative ideas manifest themselves visually and allow us to understand such diverse worlds as cartography and astronomy to music and philosophy. Artists have drawn inspiration from themes which have transcended time such as the study of the human body and the natural world, to give them physical presence. The earliest printed books contained illuminations and later illustrations in which image and word converged to generate new visual forms for the reader. Technology also impacted on the ability to interpret objects moving from the naked eye to the scientific instruments designed to enhance optics. This exhibition will explore connections between these developments and how the gestation of the creative idea contributes to our understanding of visual culture.


The exhibition draws together for the first time materials from Senate House Library with those of all of the Institute Libraries of the School of Advanced Study. The Library acknowledges the support of the Librarians of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Institute of Classical Studies, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Institute of Historical Research, Institute of Modern Languages Research and the Warburg Institute. We express our gratitude for the lending of their materials and likewise to EcoArtist Sarah Turner, Graphic Designer Simon C Page and architectural model constructors Robert and Gavin Paisley at Chisel & Mouse.

Get involved

Over the three months, the Illumination Series will host over twenty events: lectures, symposia, workshop and performances which explore aspects of the visual through different disciplinary perspectives to bring new insights into the materials on display in the exhibition and the Library’s wider collections. Admission to the exhibition and events are free. However, due to space limitations, tickets are required for admission for the events. Click on the Eventbrite link for each event for ticket availability. For further information on the exhibition and the Series, contact the Curator and Research Librarian, Colin J.P. Homiski.

For now enjoy this sneak preview trailer of the exhibition:


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