DESCRIPTION, ANALOGY, SYMBOLISM, FAITH. JESUIT SCIENCE AND ICONOGRAPHY IN THE EARLY MODERN DEBATE ON THE ORIGIN OF SPRINGS
These attempts, though carried out within the rigorous theoretical framework imposed by the Counter-Reformation (a framework whose boundaries were unavoidably and frequently stretched to their limits), resulted in significant and peculiar outcomes, giving rise to a number of elaborate interpretations of hydrogeological phenomena that could not be ignored by natural philosophers all over Europe. Several theories advanced by Jesuit scholars contributed to shape the debate on the origin of fresh water: and in doing so, a crucial role was played by iconography. In profusely and splendidly illustrated treatises such as Mario Bettini’s Apiaria universae philosophiae mathematicae (1642), Athanasius Kircher’s Iter extaticum coeleste (1660) and Mundus Subterraneus (1664-1665), Gaspar Schott’s Anatomia physico-hydrostatica fontium ac fluminum (1660), and other works, the descriptive and metaphorical use of images proved to be a fundamental tool to support the authors’ efforts to reconcile faith with facts and to spread their theories. It was also thanks to the evocative power of these images that a number of Jesuit scholars were able to increase the influence of their refined theoretical models among the Republic of Letters, interacting – not without struggle and fierce disputes, of course – with the supporters of the new experimental method; and providing a significant contribution, rather than an antithetical and obsolete point of view, to the comprehension of the water cycle.