The Art and Science of Ernst Haeckel

Rainer Willmann

German-born biologist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), a naturalist, evolutionist, artist, philosopher, and physician, devoted his life to studying flora and fauna of all ecosystems, from the highest mountaintops to the deepest ocean. He vigorously advanced Darwin’s views of evolution, criticized religious orthodoxy, wrote philosophical treatises, earned a degree in zoology, and invented terminologies like ecology, phylum, and stem cell that are now often used in science.

The drive to both uncover and explain is at the core of Haeckel’s enormous legacy. To do this, he produced hundreds of minute sketches, watercolors, and drawings of his findings, which he then published in a series of books, among them the magnificent Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms in Nature), which could be seen as the fulcrum of Haeckel’s entire life project and several collections of marine organisms. Haeckel’s work was renowned for its graphic accuracy and painstaking shading in addition to its understanding of biological evolution, similar to a meticulous visual encyclopedia of living things. Haeckel stressed nature’s fundamental symmetries and order and discovered biological beauty in even the most unexpected of species. He found biological beauty in everything from bats to the box jellyfish, lizards to lichen, and spider legs to sea anemones.

With a compilation of 300 of his finest prints from several of his most significant books, including Die Radiolarien, Monographie der Medusen, Die Kalkschwämme, and Kunstformen der Natur, we commemorate the significance of Haeckel’s work in science, the arts, and the environment in this book. The book serves as an undersea excursion, a vivid reminder of the value of diversity in life, and a visual masterpiece at a time when biodiversity is being threatened by human actions more and more.