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Ernst Haeckel - Artforms in Nature: Panel 4

A research guide accompanying the Ernst Haeckel illustrations exhibit in the Dartmouth library. Each panel of the exhibit asks the viewers to reflect on different aspects of Haeckel's work.

Panel 4 The Embryos

Ernst Haeckel Panel - 4 The Embryos

The Trouble with Haeckel 

II : The Embryos

While Hæckel’s artistry is  still admired today, his reputation as a biologist has been widely debated. Haeckel’s drawings of embryos of different species at various stages of development, pictured here, are some of the most widely-viewed images of embryos. They are also some of the most widely disputed images in scientific history. 

The accusations of fraud surfaced shortly after Haeckel created these images, and they continue today. Haeckel has been accused of misrepresenting different embryos by adding and omitting features, and by drawing similarities across species where none exist. “It looks like it’s turning out to be one of the most famous fakes in biology,” according to embryologist Michael Richardson. The debate over Haeckel’s images, intent, and methodology is ongoing. To read a comprehensive treatment of these issues, see Nick Hopwood’s Haeckel’s Embryos: Images, Evolution, and Fraud.
Caption for large image: Mycetozoa – Pilztiere. Illustration shows slime molds. Adolf Giltsch, lithographer. Ernst Haeckel, artist.

Caption for embryo images: Illustrations from Nick Hopwood, Haeckel’s Embryos: Images, Evolution, and Fraud. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Baker Stacks: QH361 .H67 2015

Further Reading

Hopwood, N. (2006). Pictures of Evolution and Charges of Fraud: Ernst Haeckel’s Embryological Illustrations. Isis, 97(2), 260–301.

Richards, R. J. (2009). Haeckel’s embryos: Fraud not proven. Biology & Philosophy, 24(1), 147–154.

Rinard, R. G. (1981). The Problem of the Organic Individual: Ernst Haeckel and the Development of the Biogenetic Law. Journal of the History of Biology, 14(2), 249–275.