About the Exhibition

The role of scientific illustration—then and now

If a bizarre new species were discovered, would you want to see it? Fortunately, you could: on TV, on the Internet, in newspapers, and in magazines. But before modern technology, curiosity was not so easily satisfied. As European explorers came into contact with fascinating animals, plants, land formations and human cultures, their descriptions made the public back home yearn for a glimpse. Illustrated books, like those featured in the exhibition, provided a window.  

Natural Histories - Rhino

Iconic woodcut by Albert Dürer

Inspired by the 2012 book, Natural Histories: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library, edited by exhibition curator Tom Baione, the Museum Library’s Director, Natural Histories features images that were created in pursuit of scientific knowledge and to accompany important scientific works in disciplines ranging from astronomy to zoology.

Reproductions of illustrations include works by celebrated artists Albrecht Dürer, Joseph Wolf, Moses Harris, John Woodhouse Audubon, and Maria Sibylla Merian.

Natural Histories Maria Sibyll Merian Pineapple

German naturalist and artist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) spent two years documenting the flora and fauna of Surinam, South America, creating the book Metamorphosis, from which this engraving is reproduced. 

© AMNH/D. Finnin