Unshackle Haeckel

While researching chimera (after Max Klinger) I stumbled across….

Ernst Heinrich Haeckel (1834 – 1919)

There is much written about Ernst Haeckel in regards to his promulgation of Darwinism, Monism etc. etc – my interest in him is entirely in regard to his amazing, beautiful drawings.

In 1864, young Haeckel sent to Darwin, two folio volumes on radiolarians. The gothic beauty of these drawings impressed Darwin. He wrote to Haeckel that they

were the most magnificent works which I have ever seen, and I am proud to possess a copy from the author

By the late 19th century Haekel was probably the most well known ‘scientist’ in the world. His programme of a “unity of culture” was his attempt to provide a bridge between biological science and art, the result of which was the visually dazzling Kunstformen der Natur, the Art Forms of Nature, published in 1904. This unity he believed to underlie the superficial diversity of all things. Haeckel called his view of unity “monism” – there was no room for the traditional Christian God, which science, Haeckel said with dubious humour, had reduced to a mere “gaseous vertebrate”.  Monism became a true movement and the Monist League became a major reference for the educated free-thinkers around the turn of the century.

On his 30th birthday his beloved wife Anna died of (probably) a burst appendix, devastating Haekel. In Italy, while trying to recover he wrote to his parents:

Mephisto has it right: Everything that arises and has value comes to nothing.

But he discovered a jellyfish while strolling a beach. That creature with its delicate yellow tendrils reminded him of Anna’s golden braids, and in his later publication on medusae, he named it in memory of his wife.

In the Kunstformen, he remarked:

The species name of this extraordinary Discomedusa—one of the loveliest and most interesting of all the medusa—immortalizes the memory of Anna Sethe, the highly gifted, extremely sensitive wife of the author of this work, to whom he owes the happiest years of his life

The Kunstformen had a decided impact on the artistic movement of Jungenstil, which flourished at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Haeckel had been convinced by his mentors Goethe and Alexander von Humboldt that to depict the wonders of nature accurately was not only to discover

the laws of their origin and evolution but also to press into the secret parts of their beauty by sketching and painting

An essay focussed on Haekel’s Art

High resolution Haekel images


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