Cover image for Devices of wonder : from the world in a box to images on a screen
Devices of wonder : from the world in a box to images on a screen
Stafford, Barbara Maria, 1941-
Publication Information:
Los Angeles, CA : Getty Research Institute, [2001]

Physical Description:
x, 405 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 26 cm
General Note:
Catalog of an exhibition held at the J. Paul Getty Museum from Nov. 13, 2001 through Feb. 3, 2002.
Added Corporate Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
N72.T4 S73 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



An inquiry into emergent media's rich lineage, Devices of Wonder explores the artful machines humans have used to augment visual perception.
The encyclopedic cabinet of curiosities serves as a model for this study of the archaic instruments lurking in state-of-the art technology. Featured in Devices of Wonder are android automata, lunar landscapes, perspective theaters, vues d'optique, microscopes, magnetic games, magic lanterns, camera obscuras, boxes by Joseph Cornell, Lucas Samaras's Mirrored Room, Suzanne Anker's Zoosemiotics, Mark Tilden's UniBug 3.1, panoramic works by Jeff Wall and Giovanni Lusieri, paintings by Jean-Baptiste Chardin and Joseph Wright of Derby, projections by Diana Thater and James Turrell, and a pop-up book by Kara Walker.
Barbara Stafford's introduction weaves these fascinating artifacts into a provocative narrative analyzing the complex links between old and new media. Her wide-ranging investigation is complemented by thirty-one short essays in which Frances Terpak tracks the often surprising connections among individual items. Like the cabinet of curiosities, Devices of Wonder functions as an analogical instrument, reframing the beautiful "eye machines" that continue to mediate our encounters with the world.
This book is published in conjunction with an exhibition at the Getty Museum from November 13, 2001, through February 6, 2002.

Author Notes

Barbara Maria Stafford is William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. Frances Terpak is curator of photographs at the Getty Research Institute. Isotta Poggi is research associate at the Getty Research Institute.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

That historical precursors to modern technology deserve careful investigation is the pretext for this encyclopedic survey of post-Renaissance curios. Stafford, a professor at the University of Chicago, and Terpak, a curator at the Getty Research Institute, say their goal is to find the "ghosts lurking even in state-of-the-art devices" and demonstrate how "media machines... constrain what it is possible to see [and] also determine what can be thought. " But mostly it seems like they just want to chat about weird old gizmos. Take, for instance, the famous Vaucanson duck, a quacking automaton that wowed 18th-century audiences with its seeming ability to swallow, digest and defecate food. (It was later proved a sham.) Or the 18th- and 19th-century "panoramas," immense paintings that surrounded the viewer in three dimensions (in 1794, one naval panorama was so overwhelming that the Queen of England claimed it made her seasick). Stafford and Terpak love all these strange artifacts, even when, as with a complicated kind of German cabinet called the Kabinettscr?nke, the subject is less than enthralling. But the authors may have sacrificed tightness to comprehensiveness; there's little sense of connection between the disparate objects. Another problem lies with the book's structure: because Stafford wrote the first half and Terpak the second, there is considerable overlap of material. Add to this the authors' high academic tone, and the result is an informative text that will appeal only to museum-goers and antiquarians with extremely obscure tastes. Color and b&w illus. (Nov.) fyi: This will be published in conjunction with an exhibit at the Getty Museum in L.A. from November 13, 2001, to February 6, 2002. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Somewhere between the science of optics and the world of visual amusements lies the material to be featured in an upcoming exhibition at the Getty Research Institute, as documented here. The show will gather inventions that alter or enhance visual perception, from the Renaissance to the present, including a startling variety of "eye machines," from mirrors and microscopes to dioramas and panoramas. Among the more familiar tools of perception are curiosity cabinets, faceted lenses, anamorphic images, and clockwork automatons. Joseph Cornell's boxes, Diana Thater's video projections, and paintings by Jean-Baptiste Chardin further extend the idea of visual perception, taking it from the mechanical into the artistic realm. Stafford (Univ. of Chicago) admirably condenses centuries of experimentation into a short essay. Unfortunately, despite many intelligent observations, her attempt to deconstruct these objects philosophically and her academic writing style often detract from the wonder of the subject at hand. Terpak (curator of photography, Getty Research Inst.) relates a more straightforward history, dividing the disparate inventions by type. Despite the drawbacks, the subject matter is compelling and there is much to be gleaned factually, making the volume worth consideration for all art collections. Susan Lense, Upper Arlington P.L., OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.