Art in Science

While art and science may seem to be opposed to each other, these two subjects have been closely linked for centuries. Find out how Linnaeus used images in the development of the science of taxonomy.

The use of Art in Science

While to many they may seem to be quite different subjects, the relationship between art and science started centuries ago. The relationship is an important one; before cameras and computers, before smart phones and apps, how do you think scientists shared information? New discoveries in science were recorded not only in writing, but as illustrations to be studied. Accurate illustrations were necessary to disseminate new information in the time before modern technology, and during a time of intense scientific activity.

Carl Linnaeus classified many species (about 7,700 plant species and 4,400 animal species - all that was known at that time), doing much of this through specimens either sent to him or collected by him. But in some instances this was not possible, and his classification for several species was based on an illustration. A number of these illustrations are classed as 'types' (see 'Lectotype' in the Glossary) and are studied and referred to by scientists to this day. Illustration has played an important role in the history of science. The Linnean Society is uniquely placed in this field, with our amazing collection of hand-painted volumes and manuscript illustrations, situated next to the Royal Academy of Arts on Piccadilly

Where Science Meets Art

Edward Lear

Famous for his nonsense verse like 'The Owl and the Pussycat', Edward Lear was originally celebrated for his stunning and accurate natural history images. He became known as one of the finest illustrators of the time.

Ernst Haeckel

Haeckel was a German biologist who popularised Darwinism in his home country. Coining phrases like 'ecology' and 'ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny', he was also a gifted artist whose scientific illustrations inspired art and design.

James Sowerby

James Sowerby was a uniquely talented botanical artist - so much so that it became a family business when his sons followed in his footsteps. He illustrated James Edward Smith's text for 'English Botany'; Sowerby's striking images proved to resonate with readers not usually familiar with botanical texts.

Maria Sibylla Merian

Merian was a well-respected natural history artist whose beautiful entomological and botanical images influenced the scientific world. Travelling to Surinam in 1698 to study the flora and fauna, she was a trailblazer.

William Swainson

Interested in entomology, conchology, malacology and ornithology and artistic in nature, English scientist Wiliam Swainson was purportedly the first scientist to use the lithographic printing process.