Art Forms from the Abyss - Ernst Haeckel
Peter Williams, Dylan Evans, David Roberts and David Thomas
Radiant images from the renowned 19th-century biologist and illustrator Ernst Haeckel feature tiny organisms that live in water. You'll be enthralled by Haeckel's unparalleled artistry and attention to detail.
Whether you are a jewellery designer, a scientist, a graphic artist or naturalist, you will find something new to inspire you in Haeckel's work.
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Germany, in the 1800s was very much the leader of the development of new concepts in biology. Ernst Haeckel was an active member of that scientific community. He is best remembered for his art – particularly his beautiful illustrations of plankton – notably the medusae, siphonophores and, his great love, the radiolarians.
He influenced the art of his times and continues to do so to to this day: his classic works are used in art schools and by artists around the world.
His most famous book, Kunstformen der Natur (Art forms in Nature), contains just 39 images of the full set of 342 images of plankton that Haeckel and his illustrator jointly produced. The remaining images are spread thinly through other published work. Books with the images have been published by Prestel and, if you can spend time hunting, you'll find images of varying quality on the internet. Sadly, many of these are made by scanning thick volumes, this can cause severe shading as well as low resolution. Copies of important works System der Medusen (1879) and Challenger Reports are scattered about in a small number of specialised libraries, and thus their use for study and teaching is severely limited.
In effect they are a lost treasure.
A group of us associated with the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor University decided we would make images of the plates in the Challenger Reports readily available at no cost on the internet.
We located a mint condition copy of the Reports in the archives of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, in some volumes the pages were still uncut and so had not suffered from use and exposure to light. The archivist, Vicki Hammond, agreed to allow us to take three volumes of reports to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh for high quality reproduction. The Challenger Society, a UK scientific and research organisation, provided us with funding to enable this and also to visit to the Haeckel museum in Jena where we acquired supporting material and information. The images were then cropped and aligned, to prevent any loss of detail or information, no further processing has been made – thus the user can work with the primary images.
These high resolution images are available for free downloading at a number of sites including http://haeckel.bangor.ac.uk/, from which links to other sites are also provided.
While we were collecting the images, we considered how attention could be drawn to this resource. We came to the view that this would be best achieved by producing a book with a selection of the collected images.
As the publisher - Prestel - had already produced two successful facsimiles of Haeckel’s images, they were the obvious choice and they welcomed the idea as an extension of a successful series. We chose to base the book – which became Art Forms from the Abyss - on the format Prestel used for Art Forms in the Oceans. A 144 page book was agreed, containing 55 full colour plates, plus an accompanying text of some 8,500 words, giving a brief description of plankton and their role, a short description of the biology of the three specific groups (the medusa, siphonophores and the radiolarians), the background to Challenger Expedition, and finally Haeckel’s science and art.
Each image is accompanied by a facing caption page, containing minimal information: species name and an indication from where they were collected (broad geographical area and depth) and the organism’s size.
The book is available from a number of book sellers (Amazon, Abe) are prices (ex p&p) ranging from £9.95, in the UK, €18.90 in Germany and $18.72 in the USA.