In the 21st century we are used to books conatining photographs. Steel engravings and color lithographs are a technique of the19 th century. Nevertheless, the drawing of microscopic objects has still its meaning, as a photograph never shows all the details of an object, because the microscope has only a small depth of field. On the other hand, a micro-drawing is not simply a scaled image of the object, it is rather the result of a synopsis done by the draftsman. Even today books written to identify species use drawings instead of photographs!

The most famous artist among biologists was Ernst Haeckel. In 1899 he published a beautiful collection of biological and microscopic drawings entitled "Kunstformen der Natur" (reprinted under ISBN 3-7913-1979-5, available at Prestel Publishers). We are displaying two panels: the radiolarians and the foraminifers. Soon after the publishing of the book Haeckel was criticized by his colleagues for having idealized too much. They claimed that in reality you can never see radiolarians with the same depth of field as presented in his drawings. However, much later the scanning electron microscope (SEM) proved Haeckel to have been right: his drawings actually anticipated SEM-images! But even amateurs made drawings of high quality: The the rightmost sample has been drawn by Detlev Rühmann, one of the founders of the Microbiological Association.


Danske Planteplankton Voigt

Later generations did not concentrate on beauty any longer, but instead focused more and more on those details which are important for determining the species. Nevertheless, Haeckel's tradition has survived. The botanist Migula (1910) provided in his book a collection of expensive color lithographs, and even 1976 the "Danske Planteplankton" (ISBN 87-01-34321-1) uses coloured tables, while Voigt in 1956 restricted himself to simple black-and-white drawings.

The library of the Microbiological Association contains many old books with plates, which are of course obsolete from the taxonomic point of view. But none the less pleases readers to have a look at these ancient books, because we can still admire the diligence of the researchers of those past days and the enthusiasm and the joy of discovery they must have felt.

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