Scientific Illustration in the Eighteenth Century
by Brian J Ford
Fellow of Cardiff UniversityIllustration emerges from complex and diverse motives. The portrayal of an objective reality may seem to lie at its heart, but there may be other subtle factors at work. Preconception,for example, guides many an illustrator's hand. A wish to project known realities onto nascent concepts distorts reality in its own ways, and the process of transmuting the subtle realism of Nature into an engraver's line imposes constraints and conventions of its own. There is a general principle in artwork, often unrecognized: the culture of each era dictates its own arbitrary realities. Our experience of this is largely intuitive, but it explains why we can relate a specific image (a saint from a thirteenth-century psalter or the countenance of the Statue of Liberty) more easily to the time it was produced than to the identity of the artist or the name of the subject. In just this way, a scientific illustration is a mirror of contemporaneous preoccupations and a clue to current prejudice. It is more than a didactic symbol. Some illustrations create, and then perpetuate, icons that transcend reality and provide a synthesized convention that passes from one generation of books to the next. These icons are created for textbooks, and they populate their pages as decorative features that do little to reveal reality.
Chairman of the Committee for the History of Biology and Member of Council, Institute of Biology, London.
Early in the century, François Legaut's Voyages et Aventures (1708) featured a rhinoceros with a second horn projecting forward from its brow. This structure is never found in life. Why should it be featured in an eighteenth-century illustrated textbook? The first published study of a rhinoceros (made by Albrecht Dürer in 1515), although powerful and otherwise realistic, boasts a small secondary horn on the shoulders, which projects forward. The image was repeatedly plagiarised and - with each generation of copying - this imaginary forward-projecting second horn increased in size. By the time it was included in Legaut's book the imaginary horn was equal in size to the real one.
For the technician, keen to capture scientific imagery, some notion of 'realism' is the declared aim. Yet cultural interpretations of this term vary considerably. European conventions, for example, aimed at conveying the right proportions, the correct number of scales, the alignment of petals in precise order. Eastern illustrators, on the other hand, portrayed Nature with less absolute accuracy but with more style and panache. A Japanese illustrator, faced with the precision of a picture from a Western encyclopaedia of ichthyology, observed: 'Yes, but I don't find it appetising.'
The art of representing three-dimensional, subtle realism on a flat sheet with lines and bands of colour took time to mature. Each new convention bestowed its terms of reference on the illustrators of the generation that followed, and they nurtured the paradigm, improved it, honed and refined it for their own contemporaneous audience. Representational illustration became a hallmark of eighteenth century reference books, and we can glimpse in earlier centuries flashes of inspirational realism on which this tradition was founded.
Earlier examples are the photo-real Viola odorata portrayed for Jacopo Filipo of Padua in the 1390s, followed by the brilliant rendering of Mandragora autumnalis by Giacomo Ligozzi around 1480, and the clump of turf of Albrecht Dürer's Das Große Raßenstück of 1503. There remained no method of duplicating these vivid images, which could not find publication as scientific illustrations in mass-produced works. Most earlier published scientific illustrations were of poor quality, and the crude woodcut of a horse skeleton by Ferrari in 1560 (as an example) shows little more than a half-decayed and distorted corpse with little attempt at realism. Others were far more attentive to detail. Carlo Ruini produced well-observed studies of the horse skeleton as early as 1598, and his work was still being used as a reference by Snape in 1683.
As the eighteenth century dawned, new philosophies were emerging in a cascade of intellectual renewal. Locke and Spinoza, Leeuwenhoek and Leibniz, Descartes and Newton were publishing revelations in an unending stream. The techniques of graphical representation began to be more fully understood, and accepted conventions could now be applied to the panoply of natural philosophy. After centuries of haphazard block-making and essentially crude drawing, an era of representational scientific illustration was suddenly to emerge. Now that artists were aware of the way to apply their craft, and natural philosophers were identifying the realities that surrounded them, lucid illustrations suddenly began to become commonplace. A flowering banana, for example, was portrayed, for the first time in scientific history, as clearly as you would expect to find it in a present-day textbook or a botanical home page on the World Wide Web. The horse skeleton was beautifully embodied in engravings of the highest quality, transcending anything that had gone before, and better than most illustrations available today. Majestic images of the heavens and detailed drawings of the intricate communities of ponds and hedgerows were suddenly laid before an enthusiastic audience. As an era of science began to mature, the illustration of its findings came to a state of representational perfection which sometimes exceeded the standards in modern reference sources.
Illustration before the Eighteenth Century: A Tradition of Obscurantism
Representational realism as a routine had begun to appear in previous centuries, although not usually in academic texts. The many herbals, for example, frequently featured hideously distorted and exaggerated versions of medicinal plants. To the tyro, their value as a guide to identification was slight; experienced herbalists, of course, knew perfectly well what was portrayed. To seek the best early portrayals of Nature we turn to the religious artist. The most accessible source is the Books of Hours perfected by the Flemish illustrators of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. One example, the Hasting Hours painted prior to 1480, is a perfect small tortoiseshell butterfly sitting on a primrose. The religious painters were content to set down images of Nature as an aid to worship and had no need to distort or falsify.
Why, then, do we find unrecognizable images of plants in the specialist herbals? The reason lies in a wish to dignify the trivial through obscurantism. Herbalists did not wish to have the public au fait with their art, and the purpose of the imagery was to keep outsiders at bay. In modern science we find the equivalent when false-colour transmission electron micrographs are used to decorate articles for the public and when complex terminologies are used to designate the simplest of concepts. There is a phenomenon, for example, in which patients clench their molars and rub them together while asleep. It is known to doctors as tooth-grinding - but only among themselves. Once the topic is likely to receive a wider audience, it becomes transmuted into 'temperomandibular joint syndrome'. In just the same way, a white cell remains a white cell among the scientists in a haematology laboratory. If an outsider comes into the room, these cells become 'polymorphonuclear granulocytes', and they remain polymorphonuclear granulocytes until the visitor has left.
A desire to keep specialisms special - and to prevent non-academics from gaining undue insights into fields that authorities like to keep for themselves - has often guided the rapporteurs of scientific progress. In the field of scientific illustration we find resonances of the same ideal. The modern world is replete with images of twisting spirals of nucleic acid, seductive impressions of black holes in the deep recesses of outer space, meaningless vistas of integrated circuits animated in a choreographed sequence in a television commercial - images designed to impress the public with a sense of unattainable complexity, rather than to illuminate a simple and assimilable truth. Atoms are still illustrated as though they were composed of billiard balls, even though this concept has not been applicable since the postquantum era of the 1930's.
A respite of realism
In the eighteenth century viewers enjoyed a respite from this kind of practice. The clumsy caution of the earliest illustrators was maturing into a full appreciation of the wonder of reality, and the present-day tendency to distort and impress was yet to arise. In this singular century we saw the new currency of scientific honesty beginning to emerge. It bequeathed to us a legacy of vivid and striking pictures, capturing for the first time the extent of human discovery. Science began to emerge as a recognizable discipline, and its illustrators served it well. Great voyages of discovery were bringing back collections of natural history, plant specimens and geological samples. Explorers were using artists to record their finds and were servicing collectors on their return. The era of scientific exploration was under way.
When the century was born, work on a great illustrated work was only beginning. Maria Sibylle Merian (1647-1717) had just returned to Amsterdam from Surinam, laden with drawings and collections of plant and insect material from that South American colony. She came from a family with long-established connections to this field. Her father, Mathäus Merian the Elder, had inherited the Florilegium Novum of his father-in-law Johann Theodor de Bry, and published a new edition of this work in 1641. After his death a few years later, Maria's mother married Jacob Marrell, a painter of floral arrangements, and Maria in turn married Johann Graff, one of her step-father's pupils from Nuremberg. Some years afterward she left her husband for religious reasons, and in 1698 travelled to Surinam to study, collect and draw. The results appeared in a beautifully illustrated work, Metamorphosibus Insectorum Surinamensium (1705); an enlarged second edition, containing additional plates made by her daughter Joanna, appeared in 1714. These editions are illustrated with fine engravings, each painstakingly hand-coloured and provide an interesting exemplar of the transitional period between the partly imaginary corpus of earlier illustrations and the move towards representationalism. The illustrations have an exaggerated quality, with salient features distorted to suit the view of the engraver. Some of the aspects (and several of the species) are imaginary, and some have anatomical details in the wrong order. Her cashew nut, for instance, is drawn upside-down in relation to its stem.
Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656-1708), Professor of Botany at the Jardin Royal in Paris, another important figure in the early part of the century, first published his Élémens de Botanique in Paris in 1694. It became well known for its much-revised English edition, The Compleat Herbal, published in two volumes (1719 and 1730). Tournefort catalogued 8,846 vascular plants in this book, which was illustrated with some five hundred engravings on copper. Whereas Maria Sibylle Merian had explored the New World, de Tournefort took leave from his post in Paris and set off to explore the Middle East. He was accompanied by Andreas Gundelscheimer - a physician, close friend, and naturalist, and a noted apothecary and illustrator, Claude Aubriet. They set sail from Marseilles in 1700, and headed for Crete where they botanised for three months. After exploring the islands of the Aegean they travelled to Turkey, spending time in Armenian and Kurdish communities en route to Georgia, discovering many species new to Western botanists. Tournefort published an account of the journey and their findings in a book illustrated by Aubriet: the Voyage au Levant of 1718. The engravings are recognizable but are unsubtle and done without grace. As in the case of Sybille Merian's publications of the same era, there are detectable resonances of the herbals and other illustrated books of an earlier age. However, in the Élémens de Botanique Tournefort had produced the first comprehensive treatise on botany, and the work of later taxonomists (Linnaeus, for example) should be considered in conjunction with this work. Aubriet himself illustrated several works on botany. His studies were stylized, too, but the vigour of his vernacular enhanced, rather than detracted from, the vivid realism with which he portrayed his subjects.
The great work in England was published by John Ray (1627-1705), the son of a blacksmith-cum-herbalist from Essex. With the support of Francis Willughby (1635-72), Ray toured Europe between 1663 and 1665. Many of Ray's other publications appeared during the seventeenth century, but his greatest work appeared in the eighteenth. Publication of the great Historia generalis plantarum was completed in 1704. Although a greater work than Tournefort's Élémens de Botanique (Ray describes 18,600 plant species in a work of almost 3,000 pages), it was unillustrated. There was a growing belief that the student of high science needed no pictures to enlighten the mind. This concept persisted well into the twentieth century. Today's senior British botanists know Clapham, Tutin and Warburg's Excursion Flora of the British Isles, for example, which contains no illustration of any of the species it describes.
A close friend of John Ray's, Mark Catesby (1683-1749) - a self-taught artist - was inspired to visit the Americas to document what had recently been discovered in the territories still new to natural philosophy. Catesby visited the Carolinas, Virginia, and the Bahamas and published ANatural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama islands in 1731-43. Catesby had an urge to draw everything he could see, and his books were well illustrated. There are resonances of an earlier era, for some of his illustrations lack a certain realism. Many are imbued with a caricature-like quality that is not truly representational, but reflects his self-taught status. In a later era, cartoon-like resonances of Catesby's work can be detected in some of the drawings by Edward Lear, in which birds are given almost anthropomorphic expressions. For all his stylistic oddities, Catesby is rightly celebrated as the pioneering great naturalist to work in America.
George Edwards (1694-1773), who travelled widely in Europe as an apprentice, undertook to publish much of Catesby's output, and wrote a number of published natural history books. The Natural history of birds was published as a three volume set (1743-50) and was subsequently produced in a French edition. Edwards's greatest work was published in four volumes, as The Natural history of uncommon Birds, and some other rarer undescribed Animals. It appeared between 1743 and 1751 and was followed by Gleanings of Natural History (three volumes, 1758-64).
The vigour of Catesby's illustrations can be compared with those of Griffith Hughes, whose Natural History of Barbados (1750) fulfills the need of the book collector, rather than the naturalist. The marine invertebrates Hughes figures are faithfully portrayed and represent study in the field, but each one is set with mathematical precision on a plate faithfully dedicated to its particular sponsor. The result is a dull book, pandering to the wealthy patrons but doing little to entice readers with the exuberance of discovery in the New World.
Catesby deserves his reputation as an innovative naturalist of the Americas, but he was not the first natural philosopher ever to illustrate the species of the New World. Charles Plumier (1666-1706) visited the Americas between 1689 and 1695. He published several illustrated works, including the Nova Plantarum Americanarum Genera of 1703 and the Traité des Fougères de l'Amerique published in 1705. Both books feature detailed illustrations of the genera Plumier studied, and the 170 plates on American ferns (engraved on copper by Plumier from his own specimen drawings) became a standard work (Figure 24.1). Here too the images are slightly stylized, but they come close to the modern ideal of a line drawing. Plumier died on a journey to Peru in his fortieth year, and his final book was published posthumously. This was Plantum Americanum, edited by Johannes Burmann. Plumier left a legacy of inspiration, too, for it was his late seventeenth-century travels to the New World that inspired Maria Sibylle Merian to set out and explore for herself.
Catesby was followed by William Bartram (1739-1823) who was the first great naturalist born in America, and a fine artist. He has also been called 'America's first ecologist' (a title perhaps more correctly bestowed upon Henry Chandler Cowles (1869-1939) whose publication, Vegetation of the Sand Dunes of Lake Michigan was published in 1899). Bartram, the son of King George III's botanist in America, certainly understood that there were subtle interactions between plant and animal communities, and his great work was published as Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, east and West Florida, etc, in 1791.
Carl Linnaeus (1707-78) of Råshult, Sweden, was the great systematist who brought an enduring order to the taxonomy of the natural world. The most innovative of his pioneering books was Systema naturæ regnum vegetabile, first published in 1735, but his Genera plantarum (1737) soon followed and was itself succeeded in 1751 by the Philosophia Botanica and in 1753 by Species Plantarum, in which the binomial convention appeared for the first time. Linnaeus is commemorated as the person who popularized the system of nomenclature that we have inherited. is interesting to note that the drive toward this simplicity was motivated not by a desire for scientific clarity but by the ned to economize on paper. Linnaeus felt that too much space was devoted to the lengthy Latinized plant descriptions that were then current. By reducing the description to genus and species (one word for each) he reduced his printing costs. His work gave a considerable impetus to the development of illustrated botanical books. Pulls of many of the plates used in his own books were used as wallpaper in Linnaeus's country home at Hammarby, and survive there in their original condition.
One of those inspired by the output of Linnaeus was Carl Peter Thunberg (1743-1828), who set off from Sweden in 1700 for a journey through Japan, Java, the Cape and Ceylon. He documented about two thousand new species of plants and they appear in his 293 publications on natural history and medicine. His many books were influential for generations of botanists who followed. Michel Adanson (1727-1806) of Aix-en-Provence, France, was one of them. He explored Senegal in 1749 collecting specimens. His Histoire naturelle du Sénégal (1757) was published in Paris, appearing in English in volume 16 of J. Pinkerton's General collection of . . . voyages (1814, London). Adanson's extensive two-volume Familles des Plantes (1763, 1764) was published in Paris. The engravings, taken from specimens collected on the way, are vivid and realistic. Interestingly, his plates on conchology show specimen shells with the apex downward, a convention followed by French publishers at variance with traditions elsewhere in European illustration.
During the eighteenth century, the flora and fauna of Southeast Asia remained unknown to the West until they were recorded by Georg Eberhardt Rumpf (1627-1702). His works were published posthumously. The D'Amboinsche Rariteitkamer (1705) contains over sixty plates featuring molluscs and crustaceans, and his seven-volume Herbarium Amboinense (1741-55) is also richly illustrated with discoveries new to science.
From wood to metal engraving
The traditional use of woodcut in illustration was survived into the eighteenth century (Figure 24.2), but its eclipse was marked when H. L. Duhamel de Monceau published his Traité des arbres et des arbustes (1755). All the illustrations were old woodcut blocks. As this book was published, the young Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708-1770) was already demonstrating the use to which fine and detailed copper engraving could be put. Although a vogue for exploration and discovery provided a hallmark for eighteenth century biologists, Ehret did not travel the globe. He spent all his life in Europe, but he produced some of the most memorable and accomplished illustrations in the history of botany. Born in Heidelberg, Germany, Ehret was the son of a gardener. His father died young, but not before he had painstakingly taught the young Ehret to draw from nature. Ehret's early years were not a success. He worked in Karlsruhe as a gardener for Karl III of Baden who was impressed by Ehret's art and invited him to paint some botanical studies. Ehret's status as a favourite caused problems with his fellow gardeners, and by 1726 matters had become so strained that he moved to Vienna. An apothecary named J. W. Weinman commissioned Ehret to produce one thousand botanical studies, but after he had produced the first half Weinman felt dissatisfied, paid him half a year's salary, and the contract was terminated. Some of the Ehret engravings appeared in Weinman's Phytanthozoa Iconographia. However, this book also contains many imaginary organisms and thus, in terms of content, if not technology, has more in common with a work from a previous century.
While working for a Regensburg banker, Ehret was befriended by Johann Ambrosius Beuer, a trainee apothecary and keen amateur botanist, who introduced him to his uncle. This was a crucial event for the young Ehret. The uncle was Christophe Jacob Trew, of Nuremberg, who became Ehret's most successful patron and an enduring friend. Trew encouraged Ehret in his work. A collection of six hundred of Ehret's botanical watercolours was sold in 1732 for 200 thalers (Trew had been paid only 20 thalers for his contract with Weinman). The collection, known as Herbarium Vivum Pictum, may be the otherwise unidentified collection of watercolour studies now in the library of the Earl of Derby at Knowsley Hall, England. It was Ehret's first commercial success. Ehret spent time during the following years travelling in Europe, visiting botanic gardens and studying as widely as he could. His many flower paintings were sent back to Trew, who added them to his collections and cared for them. Ehret's pictures were always identified by name of specimen and often with details such as where and how the plants were grown. Ehret visited England, where he became friendly with George Clifford, a Netherlands banker whose gardening assistant and physician was the young Linnaeus. Linnaeus published a description of the rare plants in Clifford's gardens, and it was illustrated with twenty plates by Ehret. The plates were engraved by Jan Wandelaar, and the finished product appeared under the title Hortus Cliffordianus (1737). The beautiful illustrations marked the move toward scientific accuracy in delineation of detail. Since Linnaeus considered the sexual characteristics of angiosperms crucial to classification, Ehret featured many of these details, painstakingly dissected out, in his illustrations. At the Chelsea Physic Garden, he was befriended by the curator and horticulturist Philip Miller, whose sister-in-law Ehret married. Miller had kept notes on many remarkable plants at the Garden, and published Figures of the most Beautiful, Useful and Uncommon Plants between 1755 and 1760. The illustrations were all by Ehret.
By this time he was beginning to engrave his own copper plates. He set himself a project that was published as Plantae et Papiliones Rariores (1748-59). Although the plants are confidently engraved, the butterflies are not identified by the artist and serve merely as embellishments to his floral compositions. Some of the plates show dissected details of floral structures, and each book was painstakingly hand-coloured. Meanwhile Trew was compiling his own books for publication, using engravings of Ehret's fine watercolours as illustrations. Trew published the ten-part Plantae Selectae between 1750 and 1773, and a book on garden plants, Hortus Nitidissimus between 1750 and 1792. Ehret's illustrations were included in other books; for example, a fine engraving of Pinus pinaster illustrates the Description of the genus Pinus (1803-24) written by Aylmer Bourke Lambert. Ehret worked unsuccessfully for a year as curator of the Oxford Botanic Garden, but quarrelled with Humphrey Sibthorp, Professor of Botany. Ehret was then given patronage by the Duchess of Portland, a keen horticulturist and collector, who asked Ehret to train her daughters in botanical illustration. Although Ehret did not produce any major illustrations devoted to his work, he served as a great teacher and an inspiration to the botanical illustrators who were to follow. In the next few years, botanical illustration was to reach the height of observational accuracy.
Humphrey Sibthorp himself visited Vienna in 1785 to study the manuscripts that recorded the ancient teachings of Dioscorides. Here he became friendly with Ferdinand Bauer, a young and promising botanical painter, and the two embarked on one of the greatest floral books ever published. Together they toured Greece in 1786 and 1794, the findings of which were immortalized in the Flora Graeca, which Sibthorp wrote with J. E. Smith. The illustrations are of high quality, in the form of copper engravings watercoloured by hand, and by the time the finished work appeared (1806-1840) it represented the best of eighteenth-century botanical illustration. Ehret, nevertheless, remained the finest plant illustrator in Europe until Franz Bauer (1758-1840) came to Kew Gardens at the invitation of Sir Joseph Banks. The two Bauer brothers, Franz and Ferdinand, became a formidable pair of talents, and they brought illustration to a pitch of perfection that has not been exceeded.
The most famous botanical artist of the period was the Belgian Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840), who was born at St. Hubert in the Ardennes. His greatest influence, as a young man, was Charles Louis L'Héritier de Brutelle (1746-1800) who commissioned Redouté to illustrate his Stirpes Novae aut Minus Cognitae (1764-85). Some of the plates were printed in colour à la poupée. In this technique, coloured inks are used on differing parts of the engraved plate, producing a full-colour printed image. The engravers began working on plants collected from the Spanish colonies when, in 1786, they were instructed to return them to the Spanish Ambassador in Paris. Realizing what a valuable property they held, Redouté and L'Héritier had the collection shipped urgently to London, where they were cared for by Sir Joseph Banks. Redouté was thus introduced to many members of English scientific society. L'Héritier, who returned to Paris, was murdered in the streets in 1800. Redouté gained an additional reputation through his rôle as protégé of Josephine Bonaparte, and he illustrated books by Augustin de Candolle and Philippe la Peyrouse. As the century closed, he was working on his Liliacées, published in Paris between 1802 and 1816, which some observers have claimed as the greatest illustrated work in the history of botanical science.
Early technical problems
The production of botanical illustrations was a labour of considerable magnitude. The drawings themselves took time, but the painstaking rendering of each anatomical feature as fine scratches on a copper sheet proved to be an arduous task. As in sculpture, the removal or indentation of the raw material had to be done with care. Mistakes during the engraving process were not easy to repair.
Robert Thornton (1768-1837) planned to publish A New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus Linnaeus. The first part appeared in 1799, and Thornton found he could no longer bear the cost of production. He appealed to friends in parliament, who prepared an Act that would allow Thornton to hold a national lottery to pay for publication. Although further portions of the great work appeared up to 1807, the lottery was insufficient to pay for the project, and Thornton ended his career as a publisher of scientific illustrations a ruined man.
Other projects never came close to completion. Sir Joseph Banks had embarked on the grandiose publication of a folio work, the Florilegium. Massive copper plates were engraved of the new plant species from Australasia, the intention being to print them in full colour à la poupée. The cost proved to be unbearable, and although some pages were published inked with black ink only, the great set of engraved plates was wrapped in paper and stored away. They were rediscovered, in nearly perfect condition, in storage in London and were published by Editions Alecto in 1990. The editors had the plates meticulously polished and plated, and they were then inked with contemporaneous pigments and the pages produced with a nineteenth-century printing press. The original engraving had been carried out in 1770, so it took more than two centuries for the final work to appear. Prolonged delays in publication are not unique in the field of scientific illustration. Eustachio's Tabulae Anatomicae Viri took 162 years from completion of the engraved plates to publication of the completed work (1552-1714).
Acknowledged and unacknowledged reuse
Human fascination with the dynamics of the animal world, an organic rival to human existence, had for centuries given rise to countless fanciful descriptions of demons, dragons, and denizens of the deep. To illustrators unaccustomed to unfamiliar forms of animal life, the stories brought back by travellers from far-off lands were hard to interpret as images on paper. Thus, the mysterious one-horned hippopotamus was portrayed as a unicorn, and the first images of elephants looked like hogs with an elongated snout. Plagiarism was rife.
The process of rendering a three-dimensional animal as an illustration is more complex than the portrayal of a plant: unlike herbarium specimens, collections of pressed animals are not available. For this reason, images were often reengraved from illustrations. Some eighteenth-century authors acknowledged their sources (for example, Henry Baker paid homage to van Leeuwenhoek, whose images Baker copied in his own books), but most others protested that the work of others was all their own and continued to plagiarise the work of earlier illustrators since that was far easier than creating an image de novo. It has been observed that the exaggerated protestation of unprecedented novelty and originality in the introduction to an illustrated book is usually a sure sign that the images were derivative and not original. The publisher who feels the need to insist that the reader should never imagine he has borrowed someone else's inspiration must, on deconstruction, have felt the need to disclaim responsibility. In some cases the results are amusing, as in the example of the great auk, which was vividly portrayed by the Danish naturalist and collector Ole Worm in the Museum Wormianum of 1655. His own Great Auk was a house-trained pet that he regularly took for walks. Naturally, it wore a collar of silk, and the engraver who portrayed it in the great book figured the silken band around the bird's neck. For centuries thereafter, the great auk was shown with a pale collar around its neck, as though this were a feature of the plumage of that species. Rarely was plagiarism so fittingly traced to its origins. In the modern era, published images are often used by scientific illustrators as points of reference for a new piece of artwork. The use of a photograph, or a published plate, as a reference is now being recognized in the commercial world of scientific publishing. The fees for the use of a picture as a reference are becoming comparable to standard reproduction charges.
Early eighteenth-century zoological illustration was marred by a host of books containing mythical creatures like those from two or three centuries earlier. François Valentijn published Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indien between 1724-26, filling the book with extraordinary images of seacreatures allegedly drawn from life. These did little to celebrate the wondrous realities of nature, for they were grotesque versions of distorted and unreal creatures already published by Louis Renard in his Poissons, écrevisses et Crabes (1719). The book, published in Amsterdam and dedicated to the King of England, is filled with handcoloured illustrations of a lurid and unreal nature. They have always been dismissed as figments of a vivid imagination. However, a scholarly investigation by Theodore W. Pietsch, published in 1995, has shown how most of the figures can be related to existing species. In this analysis, the comical images published by Renard were based on real studies after all. The artist imposed such artificialities on the drawings brought back from afar as to make the images grossly distorted and, at first, unrecognizable. Pietsch may have done much to rehabilitate an illustrator previously held to have invented more than he observed.
Zoology: a new realism
In the field of ichthyology, which was one of economic importance as well as a burgeoning field of pure scientific study, the trend toward representational accuracy makes the eighteenth century the crucial period of refinement. Some of the most attractive illustrations of fish appeared in Japan at this time, where natural history illustrations were beginning to acquire increasing importance. The Eastern cultures embodied more cultural resonances than the strictly representational illustrators of the West. The spiritual elevation of the eel, for instance, gave these fish the status of objects of desire in China and Japan, whereas they were traditionally reviled in the West; the national iconographies reflect these distinctions. Examples surveyed by Aramata (1989) clearly exemplify the difference.
In Europe between 1785 and 1794, Carl von Meidinger published Icones Piscium, with vivid hand-coloured engravings. The technique of illustrating fish species reached its heights with perhaps the most attractive and appealing illustrated work on fish ever to be published. Compiled by Marcus Elieser Bloch (1723-99) and published under the title Icthyologie, ou Histoire Naturelle Générale et Particulière (1785-97), it is a work of stunning beauty and impressive size. The large folio pages are decorated with striking and confident engravings of fish species from around the world. The images are hand-coloured, and silver paint is frequently used to convey a sense of realism to the fish.
Elsewhere in zoology, the refinement of illustration was being harnessed to record the new realism that was seen in science. Butterflies, always a popular subject (frequently seen in religious paintings and Books of Hours) were well represented by the engraver's art. Eleazar Albin (1713-59) prepared many beautiful studies which were published as hand-coloured engravings. As was common at the time, the name of the sponsor of each plate was featured as a dedication prominently displayed below each image. The Natural History of English Insects (1720) featured a series of well-observed studies. It was followed by many others, including a small pocket-book, Natural History of English Song Birds (1737) which contained plain engraved plates that the owners would embellish with colouring of their own. Albin was not above plagiarism. The frontispiece of his Natural History of Spiders, and other Curious Insects (1736) shows a fine engraving of the author himself, seated on horseback and surrounded by arthropods of various shapes and sizes. The most prominent feature is an 'original' study of a mite, which is in reality copied line by line from Robert Hooke's celebrated Micrographia, which had originally appeared in 1665. Butterflies and moths were meticulously portrayed in The Aurelian (1766), by Moses Harris, who seems to have provided the inspiration for a book by Jacob L'Admiral entitled Nauwkeurige Waarnemingen omtrent de Veranderingen van Veele Insekten (1774), in which the illustrations are somewhat less reliable. Images of great charm, and in hand-painted plates of Technicolor vividness, were published by J. C. Sepp in Beschouwing der Wonderen Gods (1762-1860). Symmetrical patterns of butterflies and moths appear in Benjamin Wilkes's Twelve New Designs of English Butterflies published in 1742. The plates in most surviving copies are printed in black ink, although some copies of the rare hand-coloured edition are also in library holdings.
By the turn of the century, some of the most beautiful books on the lepidoptera were in print. James Edward Smith published his Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia, from the Observations of John Abbott in 1797, and the wondrous variety of insect life was featured in books such as Dru Drury's Illustrations of Natural History, wherein are Exhibited Figures of Exotic Insects (1770-82), which shows how appealing hand-coloured copper-engraved images can be. The peak of perfection in insect illustration must be Edward Donovan's Epitome of the Natural History of the Insects of India. It was engraved and richly coloured in the closing years of the century and was released to an adoring public in 1800.
Roesel von Rosenhof, originally a painter of miniatures (and a good microscopist) published Historia Naturalis Ranarum in 1759, which is filled with richly detailed hand-coloured illustrations of amphibia and occasional reptiles in their natural habitats. Although the drawings have a certain stylistic boldness, they are of unmistakable realism. The frontispiece, showing salamanders and frogs clustered around an engraved plaque, is one of the most vivid and memorable in the history of scientific illustration. The shells of the molluscs became popular objects for collectors, and many books were published on onchology, corals, and the like. The year 1742 marked the publication of two works with striking folio plates: a book by Antoine-Joseph Dezallier d'Argenville titled Le Lithologie et la Conchyliologie (1742) and Niccolo Gualtieri's Index Testarum Conchyliorum. John Ellis published Essay towards a Natural History of the Corallines (1755), followed by History of the Zoophytes (1786), both illustrated with engraved plates. Among the finest books on conchology were those with hand-coloured plates. Thomas Martyn published The Universal Conchologist in four volumes between 1743 and 1778, and they contain so many remarkable images that few copies survive with all 160 plates intact. The largest coloured illustrations in any book on shells appear in the Choix de Coquillages et des Crustaces (1758), the images here being markedly more accurate than those in the Neues Systematisches Conchylien-Cabinet (1769-95), by F. H. W. Martini and J. H. Chemintz. These are such impressive and magnificent tomes that they must have acted as a stimulus to the endeavours of the natural philosopher. Here was colour publishing available on a grand scale for the first time in history. The results are as vivid as anything available today, but this was in an era where the public had never before seen anything so beautiful and captivating. Within a generation, realism and vivid colour had become widespread.
Not all biological illustration required vivid colours to convey its message. The development of animal anatomy during the eighteenth century was perfectly paralleled by a maturation in the engraving technique of the scientific illustrators. The exemplar is George Stubbs (1724-1806), whose painstaking dissections and diligent studies raised the anatomy of the horse to a peak of perfection that is lyrical in its beauty and impressive in its accuracy. Stubbs was born in Liverpool, the son of a leather-dresser, who encouraged the young George to study the anatomy of the animal carcasses he saw. George Stubbs took an apprenticeship at Knowsley Hall, engraving pictures from the Earl of Derby's collections, but found it uncongenial and resolved to study on his own rather than through formal channels. He therefore set out to 'study from nature herself, and consult and study her only,' and in this frame of mind became a painter in Leeds, mostly painting portraits. He studied anatomy under a surgeon in York and began giving lectures on the subject to medical students. In 1754 he visited Italy but soon returned to set up home in Lincolnshire. There he resolved to complete a major undertaking, later published as The Anatomy of the Horse in 1776, (Figutre 24.3).
Stubbs lived and worked in a deserted Lincolnshire farmhouse with his partner, Mary Spencer, who was euphemistically described on different occasions as his 'aunt' and his 'niece'. He worked continually, painstakingly removing the hide, then the muscle layers, and finally the sinews and on down to the bones. The odour of decay was heavy and oppressive, bringing complaints from neighbours many miles downwind. Stubbs, a man of great physical strength, used to carry the cadaver of a horse up several flights of stairs to his attic dissection room. The specimen was suspended on wires and ropes in a lifelike attitude, while Stubbs worked his way down through the layers and meticulously recorded each detail of what he observed. He made each engraved plate himself. In some of the illustrations he portrayed the specimen as seen, adding a second plate in which an outline diagram of great delicacy of line bore the annotations by which the figure was interpreted. His engravings run in sequences, so that, by turning the pages, the reader is presented with a time-lapse voyage of discovery from the surface layers to the internal anatomy, stage by stage. The book, when published, was enough to recommend Stubbs to a wider audience. Joshua Reynolds was among his patrons at that time. Stubbs spent the rest of his life engaged in the painting of pictures, mostly of famous horses.
New studies in Human Anatomy
As the eighteenth century began, the ancient teachings of the much-revered anatomists still lingered. They had been much modified by Andreas Vesalius (1514-64) whose De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543), published when the author was only 28 years old, contained six hundred woodcut illustrations. It remained a popular source in the early eighteenth century. Curiously, one of the great eighteenth-century illustrated works on human anatomy was written by a contemporary of Vesalius. This was the Tabulae Anatomicae Viri of Bartolomeo Eustachio (1524-1574). It is rich in striking copper-plate engravings. This work was completed by 1552 but was not published until 1714, when the plates were found in store in Rome - as we have seen (above), the gap of more than one and a half centuries was exceeded only by the delay of two centuries in the publication of the Florilegium. Its appearance almost coincided with the publication of William Cheselden's Anatomy of the Humane Body (1712). This sudden flurry of new publications served to stimulate research, and within the next decades the standards of anatomical illustration increased dramatically. The studies in Cheselden's first work were extended and improved upon in his Osteographia (1733), and this became a standard work of reference. The images are good, although lacking in fine detail. Some of them show the human body in action, occasionally as two forms in combat. They were inspiring images in their time and were plagiarized by Sir Charles Bell a century later when he came to compile his own work on skeletal anatomy.
One seminal new illustrated work on human anatomy was the Tabulae Sceleti (1747) by Bernhard Albinus, which was replete with strikingly stylised engravings with a three-dimensional appearance, each dissected human body standing in a scene of classical splendour. Some of the muscular figures were portrayed in a magnificent garden setting or against a work of sculpture; some were set in juxtaposition with a grazing rhinoceros, and, when the skeletal subject was reversed to show the opposing aspect, the rhinoceros also turned its back. This work was followed by William Smellie's fine studies. His Sett of Anatomical Tables (1754) takes a further step toward photo-realism. The drawings were made from his dissections by Jan van Rymsdyk and engraved on copper by Grignion. Van Rymsdyk used his years with Smellie as a training period for his greatest creative period as an illustrator, for he went on to work for the celebrated anatomist William Hunter (1718-83). William and his younger brother John (1728-93) revolutionized the documentation of medicine in many respects. William Hunter studied medicine at the University of Glasgow, graduating in 1750, and moved to London, where he was joined by John. The latter, who did not attend medical school, went to London in 1748, and continued his studies by assisting his brother in the dissecting room. He studied surgery under Cheselden (supra), and his dexterity as a surgeon became renowned. He was subsequently elected Master of Anatomy at Surgeon's Hall.
William Hunter, meanwhile, specialized in obstetrics from 1756 and began to establish the science as a branch of formal medicine rather than the concern only of the midwife. With Jan van Rymsdyk at his side, Hunter made detailed studies of the human uterus in pregnancy and childbirth. He published three works, the results of his obstetrical anatomical studies appearing in The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus (1774). This is a marvellous work, replete with rich and precise illustrations with a luminous quality of vivid realism. His work was followed, at the turn of the century, by the Museum Anatomicum of Eduard Sandifort (1793-1835). This fine book, which features bold - if stylized - engravings of human anatomy, was not superseded until Henry Gray published his celebrated Anatomy in 1858. To this day, Gray's Anatomy remains a standard teaching text, and reproductions of some of the original plates have appeared in editions published as the late twentieth century merges into the twenty-first.
A new view: Microscopy
The impact of the magnified image left its mark on eighteenth-century scientific illustration, although not to the extent one might imagine. In the late seventeenth century, Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) had introduced the concept of a microbial universe to the world of natural philosophy, and many of his letters to the Royal Society of London were published in volume form during the early part of the eighteenth century (see References). The published illustrations are testimony to the technical limitations of the era, for they convey only a crude impression of the vital quality that exists in the original red crayon drawings Leeuwenhoek regularly sent to London. Interestingly, Leeuwenhoek never drew; he employed a limner to capture images of his observations and directed the artist as to how to finish the study. On occasion, he records, he had to tell the appointed draughtsmen to hurry up with the work, for they tended to spend time looking in wonderment at the new sights Leeuwenhoek's homemade microscopes revealed.
His young compatriot Jan Swammerdam (1637-80) lived a tortured and turbulent life, which ended at the age of forty-three when he took up a fanatical religious asceticism. Swammerdam studied insects in minute detail, using injections of mercury to emphasize the course of vessels within the dissected insect body and recording his observations in illustrations made with meticulous accuracy. After his death the papers eventually found their way into the hands of Herman Boerhaave. He wrote a biography of this lost genius, the true founder of anatomical illustration in the arthropod world, and had the illustrations published at his own expense in a grand folio volume. The book appeared as Bybel der Natuure in two volumes (1737-38) and became a standard reference work in its field. Although it took more than sixty years to appear in print, the book was still considered advanced in its time. The engravings reveal the extent to which a gifted observer could discern detail using the simplest of optical apparatus.
One of the books to popularize microscopy after Leeuwenhoek's time was Henry Baker's The Microscope Made Easy (1743). Baker refers to Leeuwenhoek and reproduces several of the Leeuwenhoek figures, in a reengraved and somewhat degraded form. Baker shows particular interest in Leeuwenhoek's observations of Hydra viridis, devoting a book published in 1743 to this interesting organism. He did little advance our knowledge of these freshwater polyps, however, and the scientific study of Hydra was not further advanced until it came to the attention of Abraham Trembley (1710-1784), a Swiss-born teacher who used Hydra as a topic for the teaching of children in the Netherlands during his work as a private tutor. Trembley published illustrations of his experiments in the form of stipple engravings that, notwithstanding a certain artificiality of line, convey a powerful impression of the organisms in their living state (Figure 24.4). Baker's hydroids, by comparison, look moribund and distorted.
The aspects of Trembley's work of interest to the student of the history of scientific illustration concern the great delicacy of line employed in producing his plates. Hydra has tenuous tentacles, and they unravel into the surrounding aquatic environment as fine, undulating structures. This is all well conveyed in the plates. The remarkable analysis by Lenhoff and Lenhoff (1986) includes a full facsimile of the original, complete with folding plates where appropriate. The transparency of a glass vessel (Plate 3 in the 1986 work) is carefully conveyed through the use of the finest engraved lines in the plate. In the Trembley plates, note should be made of the judicious use of stipple in the engraver's technique. This allows the most subtly graded shading, but only if done by a master of the craft. Plate 5 shows stipple used to convey an impression of a living Hydra. Rarely has it been used to greater effect. The illustrations for The Universal Conchologist were also printed from stippled plates. Great subtlety of texture can be conveyed by this exacting technique.
Glassware came to be more frequently portrayed in engravings as chemical experiments came to the fore. The research that led to Joseph Priestley's discovery of the gas Antoine Lavoisier called oxygène is clearly illustrated in his Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air (1744-77). The glassware is neatly engraved in copper plates, although comparatively little attention is paid to the need to convey the refractive clarity of the glass (Figure 24.5). In France, when the essential nature of oxygen was recognized by Lavoisier, it was his wife who prepared the drawings that illustrated his published papers. She was Marie-Anne Paulze, a diligent technical artist who paid attention to the correct assembly of apparatus and recorded it faithfully in her scientific illustrations. The engraver, D. Lizars, conveys the details of the experiments in plates which, though sometimes distorted in the interests of clarity, make the nature of the experiments plain.
New technology for a new century
The move from woodcuts to metal plate engraving brought with it a significant increase in the details it was possible to convey. In the chemical and physical sciences, as in astronomy and mathematics, line diagrams were the stock in trade of the scientific illustrator, and copper-engraved plates provided the ideal medium for graphs and maps, charts and circuits. Geological science, perhaps the most vivid of the new earth sciences, harnessed the new techniques and exploited them to the full. Jean Étienne Guettard (1715-1786) recognised that several key features of the geology of France were volcanic in origin. His concept was extended by Nicholas Desmarest (1725-1815) and the resulting impetus attracted great interest in the newly expanding science of geology. Meanwhile, an English canal-builder, William Smith, was making copious notes as he travelled the length and breadth of Britain, and from these notes he compiled the most detailed geological maps of the era. His work, published early in the nineteenth century, took the form of coloured engraved sheets and laid the groundwork on which today's geological maps are based.
By the end of the century, the standard of scientific illustration had reached a level rarely exceeded in present-day volumes. Earlier woodcuts had been progressively superseded by higher quality engravings on copper, some of them inked with different pigments à la poupée, thus allowing the publisher to mass-produce engraved plates in colour for the first time. Volumes rich in hand-coloured illustrations became available, and by the end of the century lithography had appeared.
The lithographic printing process was invented by Alois Senefelder (1771-1834) at the age of twenty-six, through pure chance. In 1796 Senefelder, an unsuccessful copper engraver, jotted down a shopping list in wax crayon on a piece of smooth Bavarian limestone. It occurred to him that the wax might resist an etchant with which he could remove surrounding stone. As his experiments proceeded, he realized that the wax itself would attract ink which would not mark the stone if it was moistened with water. Eventually, Senefelder's process was based on the production of a wax image on a stone surface, which was wetted with water prior to printing. When a thin coating of oil-soluble ink was rolled across the image, the ink adhered to the wax while being repelled by the water. A sheet of paper applied to the inked surface would thus pick up an ink copy of the original wax image. The concept was soon applied to scientific illustration, the first lithographic work of botanical illustration appearing in 1812. The first zoological book, on ornithology, appeared in 1818.
Senefelder's definitive account, A Comprehensive Course in Lithography, was also published in 1818. His work in the late eighteenth century led to present-day lithographic printing, in which a polymer sheet is used in place of a limestone block. The Bavarian royal family awarded Senefelder a life pension for his work, and his inspiration is extant in almost every illustrated science book of the modern era. Thus, in terms of scientific illustrators' methods, the eighteenth century bridges the gap between the earliest woodcuts and the foundations of today's printing technology.
Ackerman, Rudolph, (1812) Thirty Studies from Nature, Munich.
Aramata, Hiroshi (1989) Fish of the World, Tokyo: Heribonsha.
de Tournefort, Joseph Pitton (1719, 1730) The compleat Herbal, London.
de Tournefort, Joseph Pitton (1718) Voyage au Levant, Paris.
Desmarest, Nicholas (1774) Histoire de l'Académie Royale des Sciences, Paris.
Dürer, Albrecht (1503), Das Große Raßenstück [Vienna: Albertina collection].
Ford, Brian J. (1992) Images of Science, a History of Scientific Illustration, London: British Library; New York: Oxford University Press.
Ford, Brian J. (1996) Images Imperfect, the Legacy of Scientific Illustration, Yearbook of Science and the Future: 134-157, Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica.
Guettard, Jean étienne (1780) Atlas et Description Minéralogiques de la France, Paris.
Hastings Hours manuscript (<1480) [London: British Library, Additional 54787 f49].
Jacopo, Filipo (1390) Viola odorata, [London: British Library, Egerton 2020 f94].
Most of Leeuwenhoek's volumes appeared during the late sixteenth century, but those appearing after 1700 are as follows:Leeuwenhoek, Antony van (1702) Sevende Vervolg der Brieven, Delft.
Leeuwenhoek, Antony van (1708) Arcana Naturae Detecta [third edition], Lugduni Batavorum.
Leeuwenhoek, Antony van (1708) Arcana Naturae Detecta [fourth edition], Lugduni Batavorum.
Leeuwenhoek, Antony van (1722) Continuato Arcanorum Naturae . . . [reprint of 1697 edition], Lugduni Batavorum.
Leeuwenhoek, Antony van (1715) Continuato Epistolarum [third edition], Lugduni Batavorum.
Leeuwenhoek, Antony van (1718) Send-Brieven, zoo aan de Hoog-edele Heeren van de Koninklyke Societet te Londen, Delft.
Leeuwenhoek, Antony van (1718) Brieven seu Werken No 19, Delft.
Leeuwenhoek, Antony van (1719) Epistolae ad Societatem Regiam Anglicam, Lugduni Batavorum.
Leeuwenhoek, Antony van (1719) Epistolae Physiologicae Super compluribus Naturae Arcanis, [reissue of of 1718 edition], Lugduni Batavorum.
Leeuwenhoek, Antony van (1722) Anatomia Seu Interiora Rerum, [retranslation of 1687 edition], Lugduni Batavorum.
Leeuwenhoek, Antony van (1722) Omnia Opera, seu Arcana Naturae, Lugduni Batavorum.
Leeuwenhoek, Antony van (1730) Continuato Epistolarum [fourth edition], Lugduni Batavorum.
Lenhoff, S., and Lenhoff, H. (1986) Hydra and the Birth of Experimental Biology, Pacific Grove, CA: Boxwood.
Ligozzi, Giacomo (c1480) Mandragora autumnalis [Florence: Uffizi Gallery, Gabinetto Disegni].
Martyn, Thomas (1743-78) The Universal Conchologist, 4 vols, London.
Merian, Maria Sibylle (1705) Metamorphosibus Insectorum Surinamensium, Amsterdam (second edition, with additional plates, 1714).
Pietsch, Theodore W. (1995) Fishes, Crayfishes and Crabs, Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Schmidt, Karl (1818) Beschreibung der Vögel, Munich
Senefelder, Alois (1818) Vollständiges Lehrbuch der Steindruckerey, Munich.
Smith, William (1815) A Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales with part of Scotland, London.
Theodor de Bry, Johann (1611) Florilegium Novum, Frankfurt.
Thunberg, Carl Peter (1784) Flora Japonica, Leipzig.
Thunberg, Carl Peter, (1788-93) Sera uti Europa, Africa, Asia förätad ären 1770-79, Uppsala.
Thunberg, Carl Peter (1807) Flora Capensis, Uppsala.
Thunberg, Carl Peter (1794-1800) Prodromus plantarum Capensium [etc], Uppsala.
Trembley, Abraham (1744) Mémoires d'un genre des polypes d'eau douce, Geneva.
Trew, Christophe Jacob (1750-1792) Hortus Nitidissimus, Nuremberg.
Trew, Christophe Jacob (1750-73) Plantae Selectae, Nuremberg.
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