Microscope Portrait

The opening date of the show is drawing near, especially for us since soon a lot of our effort will need to be focused on the actual physical installation of Martinez presents Marshall in CCHS’ gallery. To that end a whole painting has been completed! This painting will be one of the major works of the show as it is the full portrait of Humphry Marshall in his study. Though there are a number of things to talk about in the portrait, I’m first going to talk about the much anticipated microscope. This is the microscope that was actually used by Humphry Marshall and it’s in the CCHS collection. It was bought in London for him due to the efforts of two people that are very important in the story of Humphry, Dr. Fothergill and Benjamin Franklin. Before the revolution started Fothergill was Humphry’s main client and contact for European plant collectors. The doctor was wealthy and well respected both for his knowledge of medicine and botany. Initially theirs was a barter relationship exchanging plants and seeds for the latest books on botanical science and instruments like a telescope and microscope. Of course sending delicate equipment overseas was a hazardous undertaking at that time, so Fothergill contacted Benjamin Franklin, a mutual friend who was in London to pick out a good microscope and telescope to send to Humphry and a trusty ship’s captain to take care of it.

This is the microscope Franklin and Fothergill choose, beautifully crafted with a flamboyant baroque design so different from the microscopes of today. In particular this is a Culpeper-Style microscope, so named for the originator of the design, British instrument maker Edmund Culpeper. The notable aspects of the style are the vertical design, double tripod, and mirror. The microscope was focused by sliding the body up and down, and the mirror on the bottom helped to focus light underneath the specimen. Having used microscopes for botanical purposes myself I can attest that having a backlight is extremely important. Without a light a leaf will just look like a fuzzy black silhouette, with a light you can see the individual cells and structure of the plant. Though our microscopes look very different and have many more refinements, the basic principles are still all present. Humphry Marshall was looking at the same subtle elements of plant. There are many small but important parts of plants, like the insides of a flower, which are best viewed through a microscope. Small seeds, which look like black specks to the naked eye, reveal different geometrical shapes under a microscope and go from identical to quite distinct, which can help enormously for identification and classification. Imagine Humphry’s excitement at having his capacity for scientific research suddenly and profoundly expanded by this 18th century cutting edge technology.

scopereal scope

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *