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Picture this: 400 years of scientific illustration.

Illustration has been essential to research and disseminating findings about the natural world among scientists and the public on an unprecedented scale beginning In the 1500s. In the process of observing specimens, describing their structures, and working closely with illustrators or creating detailed illustrations themselves, naturalists--Including Charles Darwin, Marcus Elieser Bloch, and Marla Sibylla Merian--cataloged new species, found similarities among species, and began to place them on the evolutionary tree.

Different printing techniques, ranging from woodcuts to engraving to lithography, proved highly effective in spreading new knowledge about nature and human culture to a growing audience. Illustrated books allowed the lay public to share in the excitement of discoveries, from Antarctica to the Amazon, from the largest life forms to the microscopic.

"In the days before photography and printing, original art was the only way to capture the likeness of organisms, people, and places, and therefore the only way to share this information with others," notes Tom Baione, the Harold Boeschenstein Director of the Department of Library Services at the American Museum of American History and curator of the exhibition "Natural Histories: 400 Years of Scientific Illustration."

"Printed reproductions of art about natural history enabled many who'd never seen an octopus, for example, to try to begin to understand what an octopus looked like and how its unusual features might function."

Today, scientists use many imaging technologies to conduct research: infrared photography, scanning electron microscopes, computed tomography (CT) scanners, and more, but there still Is a role for illustration--how else to depict animals that cannot be seen live, such as a fleshed-out dinosaur? Illustration also is used to represent complex structures clearly, color graduations, and other essential details.

"Natural Histories: 400 Years of Scientific Illustration" explores the integral role Illustration has played In scientific discovery through 50 striking, large-format reproductions from the 2012 book, Natural Histories: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library, edited by Baione. It showcases images that were created in pursuit of scientific knowledge and to accompany important scientific works in disciplines ranging from astronomy to zoology, including illustrations by celebrated artists Albrecht Durer, Joseph Wolf, Moses Harris, and John Woodhouse Audubon.

During the course of the exhibition, various rare books--including works with images featured In "Natural Histories" and many never before seen by the public--will be displayed on a rotating basis.

Examples of reproductions on display include:

* A woodcut of an ornately armored rhinoceros by Durer from Conrad Gessnehs Historia Animalium (Histories of the Animals), published between 155158, and considered the beginning of modem zoology.

* An Image of a Rhea pennata, a flightless bird native to South America, drawn by John Gould and reproduced as a lithograph for The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle (1839-43), a five-volume work edited by Darwin. The specimens he collected during his travels on H.M.S. Beagle became a foundation for Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.

* Illustrations of marine invertebrates by German biologist Ernst Haeckel, who described and illustrated such specimens in the thousands. Many of those images were used to create Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms of Nature) published between 1899-1904. Haeckel used a microscope to capture the intricate structures of creatures like siphonophores--colonies of highly specialized organisms--that look like sea jellies.

* An engraving from Uranometria (1603)--the first star atlas to map both the northern and southern skies, published by Johannes Bayer. It depicts two constellations: Serpentarius, the snake holder, and Serpens, the snake.

* Robert Hooke's meticulous illustration of a flea from Micrographia (1667), which foretold a new chapter in natural history whereby organisms could be classified according to detailed descriptions of their anatomy.

* Two views of the young hippo Obayasch, in Egypt, provided by Joseph Wolf (1820-99), the principal artist for the Zoological Society of London, for one of the Society's publications before the animal was transported to the London Zoo.

"Natural Histories: 400 Years of Scientific Illustration" is on view through Oct. 12 at the American Museum of Natural History, New York.

Robert Hooke's meticulous illustration of a flea from his book Micrographia foretold a new chapter in natural history, where organisms could be classified according to detailed descriptions of their anatomy.

This depiction of a rhino from Historia Animalium, by German artist Albrecht Durer, inaccurately features ornate armor, scaly skin, and odd protrusions.

This image from Uranometria (1603)--the first star atlas to map both the northern and southern skies, published by Johannes Bayer--depicts two constellations: Serpentarius, the snake holder, and Serpens, the snake.

John Gould drew this image of a Rhea pennata, a flightless bird native to South America for The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle (1839-43), a five-volume work edited by Charles Darwin.

From Conrad Gessner's Historia Animalium (1551-58), this octopus engraving is a remarkably good likeness--except for the depiction of round, rather than slit-shaped, pupils--indicating the artist clearly did not draw from a live specimen.

In his major encyclopedia of nature, Allgemeine Naturgeschichte fur alle Stande, German naturalist Lorenz Oken (1779-1851) grouped animals based not on science, but philosophy. Nevertheless, his encyclopedia proved to be a popular and enduring work. Here Oken is illustrating variations in markings found among the eggs of water birds.

In Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (1719), German naturalist and artist Maria Sibylla Merian documented the flora and fauna she encountered during her two-year trip to Surinam, in South America, with her daughter. Here she creatively depicts a pineapple hosting a butterfly and an insect, both shown in various stages of life.

This image from the Zoological Society of London provides two views of a young hippo in Egypt before being transported to the London Zoo. Joseph Wolf (1820-99) based the image on a sketch made by the British Consul on site in Cairo.

Louis Renard's artists embellished their work to satisfy Europeans' thirst for the unusual. Some illustrations in Poissons, Ecrevisses et Crabes, de Diverses Couleurs et Figures Extraordinaires, like this one, include fish with imaginative patterns and strange, un-fishlike expressions.

German biologist Ernst Haeckel illustrated and described thousands of deep-sea specimens collected during the 1873-76 H.M.S. Challenger expedition, and used many of those images to create Kunstformen der Natur. Haeckel used a microscope to capture the intricate structure of these siphonophores--colonies of tiny, tightly packed and highly specialized organisms--that look (and sting) like sea jellies.

A female green frog (Pelophylax kl. esculentus) with egg masses is shown in dissection above a view of the frog's skeleton in Historia Naturalis Ranarum Nostratium (1758). Shadows and dissecting pins add to the realism.
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Title Annotation:Museum Today
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2014
Words:1089
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