These wonderful and extraordinary images are by Ernst Haeckel.
This blog is based on a talk I gave at the The Deep in Hull during September for their exhibition of Ernst Haeckel’s stunning images, this exhibit continues until the end of October. The exhibition is part of The Deep’s celebration of Hull’s year as City of Culture. As far as we know this is the first time they have been exhibited in the UK since his death in 1919.
In this short introduction I can only give you a brief outline to Haeckel’s life. His images are astonishing, beautiful and scientifically accurate. Since their publication in Kunstform der Natur – Artforms in Nature between 1899 and 1904, they have inspired so many artists, designers and architects. Both science and art are so vital to human culture and Haeckel links the two. His images are appropriate for exhibition at The Deep as he worked for many years as a marine biologist.
Haeckel was a devoted scientist and talented artist. His amazing works are still so fresh and relevant, they are studied today by art students in schools and colleges for both GCSE and A-level.
As a former ecology student myself, I also find it inspiring that he coined the word 'ecology' for the science studying interactions of organisms and their environment.
Who was Ernst Haeckel?
- He was born in Potsdam in 1834, following his father’s wishes he enrolled in medical school, however he did not practice as a doctor for long but devoted himself to zoology and art.
- In 1857 he earned his doctorate with a dissertation on the tissue of river crabs.
- In Sicily he studied marine organisms, finding, describing and illustrating many new species of Radiolaria, single celled marine organisms.
- He was a Professor of Zoology in Jena.
- Following the publication of Darwin’s On origin of species he became a strong defender of Darwinism and this influenced his own work. His own published works on Darwinism were translated into many languages and it is though that more people learned about evolutionary theory from Haeckel than from Darwin!
- He studied some of the animal groups collected on the British deep-sea Challenger Expedition (1872-76)
- He died in 1919 at his home, `Villa Medusa’
Artforms in Nature revealed the beauty of so many organisms including many only visible using a microscope. His work particularly influenced the blossoming Art Nouveau movement. The images are beautiful, the animals arranged with symmetry on the page and highly decorative manner.
Are the images 'art'? As an ecologist turned information specialist I do not feel qualified to judge. As his work is studied by art students I am going to say that his works can be regarded as 'art'. Decide for yourself by enjoying these amazing images, be inspired by the range of animals depicted and do support conservation to ensure these and other animals have a future.
Another biologist interested in forms and patterns was the Scottish biologist, mathematician, classics scholar and a Fellow of ZSL - D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948). 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the publication of his book which influenced generations of biologists - On growth and form which was first published in 1917. In the book he explains how biological forms follow mathematical and physical principles. Read more on the website celebrating this centenary.
The ZSL Library is a wonderful and unique information resource about animals and their conservation – we aim to inform, enthuse and inspire! And of course information is vitally important in conservation.
Our collections can be explored and discovered in a variety of ways –
Use our online catalogue
Read our monthly blog highlighting items in our collections
Follow us on Twitter @ZSLLibrary
Some further reading – all these books are in ZSL Library
Art forms in nature : the prints of Ernst Haeckel, Munich : Prestel, 2017
Art forms from the ocean : the Radiolarian Atlas of 1862, Munich : Prestel, 2016
The invention of nature : the adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the lost hero of science / Andrea Wulf, London : John Murray, 2015. (Contains a chapter about Humboldt’s influence on Haeckel.)
Kunstformen der Natur / von Ernst Haeckel, Leipzig und Wien: Verlag des Bibliographischen, 1899-1904
On growth and form, by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, Cambridge : CUP, 1917
Die Radiolarien (Rhizopoda Radiaria) : eine Monographie / von Ernst Haeckel, Berlin : Georg Reimer, 1862-1888
Select a blog
A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.
Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!
We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.
From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.
A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.
Ever wondered what a typical day as a zookeeper looks like, or what it's like to be a videographer at ZSL? Now you can find out!
Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.
Read extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.
Get updates on our latest ranges, be the first to hear about special offers, and find the perfect gift for animal lovers!
The Chagos archipelago is a rare haven for marine biodiversity. Hear from the team about our projects to protect the environments in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).
ZSL Institute of Zoology researchers are embarking on an exciting fieldwork expedition to Nelson’s Island in the Chagos Archipelago. Throughout the month, the team will share their research and experiences on an uninhabited tropical island!
ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.
An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.