EST. 2009

February 16, 2015

Those Natural Patterns

THEY RESEMBLE FABERGÉ EGGS, PAISLEY PRINTS, OR FILIGREED ORNAMENTS, but the elements featured on Kunstformen der Natur are in fact biological specimens, sketched by German renaissance man Ernst Haeckel. Containing 100 lithographic and halftone prints, the book was first published in sets of 10 between 1899 and 1904, and cumulatively in two volumes at the end of the five-year period. A second edition featuring 30 prints was produced in 1924.

As a work of art, Kunstformen der Natur or "Art Forms in Nature" exhibits intricate detail and meticulous composition, employing the graceful lines and elegant palettes that would be an influence to Art Nouveau practitioners. As a scientific material, Kunstformen touches on Haeckel's vast zoological discovery, description and classification, particularly of the Radiolarians he found while traveling in Messina, Sicily. The single-celled organisms proved enchanting to the biologist, "for whom the elegance and complexity embodied the unity of science and art." Film-maker David Lebrun's "Proteus" documents this discovery, recounting Haeckel's conflict between, and eventual reconciliation of, the scientific and the poetic.

A look through Kunstformen proves poetic indeed, with the richness of both its style and subject. The illustrations are eye candy, but they might just provide a good brush-up on zoology, accompanied by such classifications as Bryozoa, Diatomea, Ciliate and Discomedusae, which may or may not sound even remotely familiar. Browse the full set on Wikimedia Commons for a most sophisticated look at the natural world.

Kunstformen der Natur by Ernst Haeckel. Images from