Research & Writing

Recapitulating Ernst Haeckel

The more I live, the more I love and admire the work of Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919). He was a zoologist, artist and illustrator, and later a professor of comparative anatomy. I first heard of him while carrying out a philosophy of development study for my undergraduate degree, as he is well known for the phrase “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” or rather, an individual’s (biological) development mirrors that of the species’ evolutionary development. While he had some dubious (and very overgeneralized) ideas when it came to race and social theory, he offered intriguing ideas about evolution and created art that would influence the Art Nouveau movement.

From the Radiolarian Atlas, 1862

On my recent book-buying bonanza I got all of his books I could afford: namely Art Forms in Nature (1974; the pictoral archive, not the Briedbach one. Damn! Later.) and Art Forms of the Ocean: The Radiolarian Atlas (1862). (Proteus, a  documentary about his work, was made in 2004).

My intrigue for his drawings are not merely an intellectual curiosity. They resonate with me, deeply. I love his art because his representations mirror my own mental models of things. When looking at his drawings my mind starts to compute differently. Why, perhaps Mr. Haeckel boosts my synthesizing powers! No, seriously though. This is a collection of work that helps me perceive the world in a larger and more harmonious fashion.

If you haven’t looked into him, please do. You can check out the Ernst Haeckel Haus in Jena, hosting an amazing collection of his works. It’s run by Olaf Briedbach, the biologist, art historian, and author of Art Forms in Nature: The Prints of Ernst Haeckel. (He also wrote Visions of Nature: The Art and Science of Ernst Haeckel, which looks great. I’ll have to get my paws on that one soon.)

From Art Forms In Nature

From Art Forms in Nature

About Author

Renée A. Davis MA RH is a designer and educator in botanical and mycological medicine. Her training began at the Pratt Institute of Art and Design in New York City and concluded in biomedical sciences at the University of Washington. She currently directs research and development for a nutraceutical mushroom company in the Pacific Northwest.


  • […] reading it, I really saw the influence of Ernst Haeckel’s drawings (see my post about him here). See an example from the book […]

  • Sophie
    January 8, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    What a lovely site and so full of wonderful information. So glad i came across it. I have put you on my blogroll. Excited for all the future readings


Leave a Reply