Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon. Instauratio magna. London, 1620.

Francis Bacon. Instauratio magna. London, 1620.

Francis Bacon, Viscount St Alban (1Lo561–1626), Lord Chancellor, politician, and philosopher, challenged contemporary understanding of science as the contemplation of eternal truths long since discovered. In its place he proposed a conception of science as the active investigation of the unknown. At the heart of Bacon’s reasoning is theInstauratio magna (‘Great Renewing’).

Its famous frontispiece, shown here, depicts a ship travelling between the metaphorical Pillars of Hercules which were thought to lie at the Strait of Gibraltar and which marked the limit of the known world for classical Greek civilisation. It is therefore an allegory for the new world of knowledge beyond the traditional philosophy taught in universities. A Latin phrase below the Pillars is from the Book of Daniel and may be translated as “Many will pass through and knowledge will be increased”.