The Rhetoric of Weird Wonders Gleefully Carousing in Morphospace : The Biodiversity Heritage Library’s Flickr Collection

EchinothuridenPlate from Anatomie der Echinothuriden – Walter Schurig [1906]

The Biodiversity Heritage Library is a consortium of natural history and botanical libraries that cooperate to digitize the legacy literature of biodiversity held in their collections and to make that literature available for open access and responsible use as a part of a global biodiversity commons.

Scientific illustration, especially of a biological kind, reached an apex in terms of draughtsmanship and delicateness during 19th century before photography become widespread. Though the emphasis on these illustrations was on accuracy, utility and facsimile of biodiversity, the personal aesthetics of the artists inevitably wrestled their way into the frame.

Ernst Haeckel’s brilliant illustrations are the canonical example of this kind of treatment. The imperfect geometries of real world protists and radiolarians were rectified to a crystalline precision and made perfect. Haeckel’s organisms are made to appear to behave like tiny machines. Their colours are over saturated and amplified to the point of psychedelic hyperreality. The revisions in his illustrations were sometimes made to fit theories that defined his own slant on Darwinian evolution. This was taken to the extreme in Haeckel’s embryology illustrations that he hoped would popularise his ‘ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny’ theory.

Biologische_Untersuchungen02Plate from Biologische Untersuchungen – Gustaf Retzius [1890]

Biologische_Untersuchungen02Plate from Biologische Untersuchungen – Gustaf Retzius [1890]

MedusaPlate from Die Medusen – Otto Maas [1897]

MedusaPlate from Die Medusen – Otto Maas [1897]

crinoid_genus_ScyphocrinusPlate from On the Crinoid Genus Scyphocrinus and its Bulbous Root Camarocrinus – Frank Springer [1917]

Æolididae0Plate from Æolididae e famiglie affini del porto di Genova pt.1 – Salvatore Trichese [1879]

Rummaging through the BHL Flickr account will give you an idea of how much material is available for research – more than 2000 albums of plates from manuscripts and proceedings. It amounts to well over 100,000 images. Each album contains annotations and links to the original publications which can be downloaded or viewed online. The title of this post, ‘The Rhetoric of Weird Wonders Gleefully Carousing in Morphospace’, is fragment of a sentence taken from Richard Dawkins’s excellent book The Ancestor’s Tale.

radiolarianPlate from Die Radiolarien (Rhizopoda radiaria) – Ernst Haeckel [1862]

radiolarianPlate from Die Radiolarien (Rhizopoda radiaria) – Ernst Haeckel [1862]

naked_eye_madusaPlate from A Monograph of the British Naked-Eyed Medusæ – Edward Forges [1848]

Plate from Denkschriften der Medicinisch – Ernst Haeckel [1879]

Here’s a pick from the collection (the illustrations above are taken from these monographs):

A Monograph of the British Naked-Eyed Medusæ – Edward Forges [1848]. Monograph can be found online here.

Æolididae e famiglie affini del porto di Genova pt.1 – Salvatore Trichese [1879]. Monograph can be found online here.

Die Medusen – Otto Maas [1897]. Monograph can be found online here.

Die Radiolarien (Rhizopoda radiaria) – Ernst Haeckle [1862]. Monograph can be found online here.

An Account of the Indian Triaxonia – Franz Eilhard Schulze [1902]. Monograph can be found online here.

Anatomie der Echinothuriden – Walter Schurig [1906]. Monograph can be found online here.

Spongiaires de la mere – Duchassaing de Fontbressin & Giovanni Michelotti [1864]. Monograph can be found online here.

Denkschriften der Medicinisch – Ernst Haeckle [1879]. Monograph can be found online here.

On the Crinoid Genus Scyphocrinus and its Bulbous Root Camarocrinus – Frank Springer [1917]. Monograph can be found online here.

Biologische Untersuchungen – Gustaf Retzius [1890].

Further reading:
Pictures of Evolution and Charges of Fraud: Ernst Haeckel’s Embryological Illustrations – Nick Hopwood [PDF]

2 Responses to “The Rhetoric of Weird Wonders Gleefully Carousing in Morphospace : The Biodiversity Heritage Library’s Flickr Collection”

  1. Ernst Haeckel’s brilliant illustrations | irrepressible parasites writes:

    […] source: http://www.dataisnature.com/?p=2111 […]

  2. exquisite circles | art and awareness writes:

    […] cruising around facebook I came across a post on the awakened eye that pointed to a piece called ‘The Rhetoric of Weird Wonders Gleefully Carousing in Morphospace : The Biodiversity Heritage … The name alone seemed a mouth-full and would normally have had me scrolling past with judgement of […]

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