The Museum’s collection of more than 1800 engravings and lithographs represent a sampling of European and American natural history illustrations from the 17th to 19th centuries. These antique prints give us a glimpse into history, help us to understand how the sciences developed, and show how people communicated in an earlier age. Originally used for scientific identification, as printing methods improved and more artists were involved, they became sought after for their intrinsic beauty; a blend of art and science.
They were made during an era in which the world’s flora and fauna were being described for the first time. As European voyages of exploration discovered new lands beyond the boundaries of the known world, naturalists and artists collected and recorded their findings bringing brought back vast collections of plants and animals new to science. Once home, the artist’s drawings were engraving onto copper plates and published for a public eager to see these exotic new discoveries. Engravings and lithographs of birds, plants, fruit, insects, are represented in the Museum’s print collection. Subjects include 19th century lithographs of birds and mammals by John James Audubon, hummingbirds by John Gould, reptile and amphibian engravings from Colonial America by Mark Catesby, and 17th century German botanicals by Basil Besler.
These beautiful and historic works are lasting testimony to the contribution that art has made to our understanding of the natural world during the last four centuries.