Kunstformen der Natur
Step into a wonderland of colour, a celebration of the natural world in all its artistic and symmetrical glory...
Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was an eminent German zoologist who specialized in invertebrate anatomy. He named thousands of new species, mapped a genealogical tree relating all life forms, and coined many now ubiquitous terms in biology. A popularizer of Charles Darwin, Haeckel embraced evolution not only as a scientific theory, but as a worldview. He outlined a new religion or philosophy called monism, which cast evolution as a cosmic force, a manifestation of the creative energy of nature.
Haeckel’s chief interests lay in evolution and life development processes in general, including the development of nonrandom form, which culminated in the beautifully illustrated Kunstformen der Natur - Art Forms of Nature, a collection of 100 detailed, multi-colour illustrations (lithographic and autotype) of animals and sea creatures prints. Originally published in sets of ten between 1899 and 1904, and as a complete volume in 1904.
The overriding themes of the Kunstformenplates are symmetry and organization, central aspects of Haeckel's monism. The subjects were selected to embody organization, from the scale patterns of boxfishes to the spirals of ammonites to the perfect symmetries of jellies and microorganisms, while images composing each plate are arranged for maximum visual impact.
Kunstformen der Natur played a role in the development of early twentieth century art, architecture, and design, bridging the gap between science and art. In particular, many artists associated with the Art Nouveau movement were influenced by Haeckel's images, including René Binet, Karl Blossfeldt, Hans Christiansen, and Émile Gallé.
Our copy of Kunstformen der Natur [photographed here] is a complete bound volume of all ten fascicules and sits in our folio section. It was donated to us in 1919 by the first Director of the National Museum of Wales [from 1909 to 1924], William Evans Hoyle. Hoyle’s trained as a medical anatomist and developed a life long interest in 'cephalopods'. Our BioSyB Department now holds Hoyle's cephalopod collection [over 400 of them] along with many other specimens and publications.
Haeckel biographical information:
Hoyle biographical information:
All photographs in this post taken by the author.
The Ghost Orchid
The Ghost Orchid Epipogium aphyllum is an extremely rare species found in a very small number of sites within the UK. The plant feeds by parasitising fungi, rather than through photosynthesis and as a result is largely colourless, hence its name. It was deemed extinct in 2005 but a new specimen was found in 2009 and was later collected after being eaten through by a slug. The National Museum Wales Herbarium has seven specimens of this orchid, five courtesy of marauding slugs.
The specimen pictured was also cut down by a slug but this is even more rare, because of the way it has been preserved. This specimen was collected in 1982 and placed into a solution of formalin. The specimen arrived on my desk last week and I have since provided new labels, a new jar and it is now in a new preserving fluid of 10% DMDM Hydantoin and 0.5% glycerol increase its longevity and improve visual clarity. By preserving this specimen in fluid its 3 dimensional morphology is clearly demonstrated and the fluid gives it an even more ghostly appearance.
Dr Victoria Purewal, Botanical Conservation Officer