Next Month Take a Peek into the Museum's Rare Book Collection main content.

Next Month Take a Peek into the Museum's Rare Book Collection

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Until the early 1900s the world relied on painstakingly created woodcuts, engravings, and lithographs to catch a glimpse of the fascinating plants and animals explorers were encountering on their far-flung journeys across the globe.

Celebrate the role illustration has played in scientific discovery with Natural Histories: 400 Years of Scientific Illustrations from the Museum’s Library, a new exhibition opening at the Museum on Saturday, October 19.

Natural Histories Rhino by Durer
This rhinoceros by German artist Albrecht Dürer was featured in Historia animalium (1551).  Compiled by a Swiss naturalist, Conrad Gessner, the five-volume encyclopedia is credited with the start of modern zoology and was the most widely read natural history book in Renaissance Europe. 

Inspired by the 2012 book Natural Histories: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library, the exhibition will include fifty large-format reproductions taken from the Museum’s Rare Book Collection. These images, which date from the 1500s to the early 1900s, captured the imaginations of Europeans as they sought to understand the natural world through the eyes of artists and naturalists. Primarily working off of specimens brought back from expeditions, illustrators often had to surmise the finer details of their drawings, which made for some remarkable representations.

Take a sneak peek below at more images from the exhibition, which is curated by Tom Baione, the Harold Boschenstein Director of Library Services at the Museum. 


NH Fish
In an effort not to disappoint Europeans who saw collections of preserved tropical fish lacking their brilliant colors, Louis Renard (1678-1746) compiled the book Poissons, with 100 fancifully colored engraved plates depicting fish and crustaceans from the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).
Image of a two-toed sloth from the 17th century, incorrectly showing the sloth climbing upright.
This two-toed sloth is depicted climbing upright in a four-volume work compiled by Albert Seba (1665-1763.) Having never seen a sloth in the wild, Seba and his team of artists had no idea that sloths do not generally stand in this way, but rather hang upside-down. 


Natural Histories: 400 Years of Scientific Illustrations from the Museum's Library opens on Saturday, October 19. The exhibition, which will be on the display in the IMAX corridor on the Museum's first floor, is free for Members or with Museum admission. 

See a selection of gifts—from T-shirts to artworks—inspired by Natural Histories, available at the Museum's shop.

The presentation of Natural Histories at the American Museum of Natural History is made possible through the generosity of the Arthur Ross Foundation.

All images © AMNH\D. Finnin