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Ernst Haeckel - Artforms in Nature: Panel 5

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 5 Influence in Popular Media

Ernst Haeckel Panel - 5 Influence in Popular Media

In the 19th century, the world beneath the sea played much the same role that “outer space” has played for the 20th and 21st. The ocean depths were at once the ultimate scientific frontier and the realm of dreams and nightmares, what Coleridge called the reservoir of the soul.

Based almost entirely on 19th-century scientific illustrations, paintings, and photographs brought to life through innovative animation, PROTEUS explores the undersea world through a complex tapestry of biology, oceanography, scientific history, poetry, and myth.

The central figure of the film is biologist and artist Ernst Hæckel (1834-1919). One of the most influential minds of the 19th century, Hæckel found himself torn between seeming irreconcilables: science and art, materialism and religion, rationality and passion.

For Hæckel, the key to integrating these dualities was a tiny undersea organism called the radiolarian. Hæckel discovered, classified, and painted four thousand species of these one-celled creatures. Their beauty and seemingly infinite variety led him to a sweeping vision of nature as a single, unfolding work of art.

Citation for main text: DVD liner notes from PROTEUS–A Nineteenth Century Vision. Directed by  David Lebrun.  Brooklyn: First Run/Icarus Films, 2004. Jones Media DVD  5163. (Note: the reproduction above the main text is the DVD cover art.)

Caption for large image: Ascidiae – Seescheiden. Illustration showing a variety of sea squirts. Adolf Giltsch, lithographer. Ernst Haeckel, artist.