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Natural Sciences

Ernst Haeckel, Specimen of radiolaria (a type of marine Protozoa)

Ernst Haeckel

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Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was a German scientist and artist who discovered thousands of new species, described and named life forms, invented biology terms and wrote numerous scientific studies during his lifetime. He is best known for his beautiful illustrations ranging from micro-organisms to human genealogical trees. In the 1850s, just after cell theory had been formulated, he was one of many students excited to make discoveries in a field that wasn’t yet fully developed, though he soon became dissatisfied with what felt like an unfulfilling scientific practice. In the late 1870s, however, while looking through a microscope at grains of sand, Haeckel began to sketch the mineral-shell specimens called radiolarians. It was through these drawings that his passion for science was reignited and he set out to map every type of marine life, seeing radiolarians as a “key to the creative power of nature.” 

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Ernst Haeckel, Various species of Siphonophoral (in the same class as hydras).

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Ernst Haeckel, Specimen of red algae (Rhodophyceae).

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Haecklel’s meticulous drawings gave a visual power to Darwin’s theory, helping him defend and spread his work. In 1868, his illustrated findings became a bestselling book entitled Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte.  It was translated to English in 1876 as The History of Creation. But years of struggle also haunted Haeckel – he was subjected to harsh criticism by his scientific colleges of the time as he tried to integrate artistic and scientific practices. Even so, his scientific and artistic output was so extensive and prolific that even Darwin credited him in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, saying that if Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte “had appeared before my essay had been written, I should probably never have completed it.” (wiki)

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“Proteus: A Nineteenth Century Vision, by Director David Lebrun, 2004”

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Leonardo da Vinci, Anatomical study of a human skull.

The Secret of Drawing | Ep.1, The Line of Enquiry

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“][vc_column width=”1/1″ desktop_hide=”” tablet_width=”” tablet_sm_width=”” mobile_width=””][vc_column_text animation_delay=”200″]This four part BBC series, presented by Andrew Graham-Dixon, explores how drawing has shaped our lives. Ep. 1 looks at artists who have chosen the natural world as their subject matter and explores how drawing has helped man to understand his place in the universe. The programme covers the Renaissance, the Eastern way, Turner, Constable and contemporary artists Anthony Gormley and Richard Long.

The Line of Enquiry
Season 1 | Episode 1
Aired date: 

Andrew Graham-Dixon takes a look at the many ways in which drawing has connected us with the natural world and also how it has helped advance scientific enquiry, from the Italian Renaissance right through to today. In this first edition, he meets a surgeon whose study of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of the heart has led him to develop a radical new form of cardiac operation, uncovers a remarkable 200 year-old series of drawings of the moon, and encounters some of the actual preserved birds drawn by the great American ornithologist John James Audubon.

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The Secret of Drawing Series is the property of the BBC and is subject to copyright. Header video is the work of SI Scott.

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