Still life

John Parkinson - Theater of Plantes

John Parkinson, Theatrum Botanicum or the Theater of Plantes (London, 1640)

Parkinson (1566/7-1650) was an apothecary and one of the first great English botanists. His book catalogues over 3800 plants, some of which had not been described before. Traditionally books such as this, called 'herbals', were used to identify plants with healing properties and explain how they could be prepared as medicines. The illustrations were an essential guide for readers.

Georg Dionysius Ehret FRS - African aloes

Georg Dionysius Ehret FRS, watercolour drawings of African aloes (1737)

Ehret (1708-1770) initially trained as a gardener in Germany, painting flowers as a hobby. His talent was soon recognised and he was commissioned to paint new plants in the collections of the period's great gardeners, especially newly imported exotic species. This image is part of a volume of twenty-seven illustrations depicting all the aloes grown at Chelsea Physic Garden in London. The aloe is particularly difficult to preserve, so Ehret's illustrations were an important aid for botanists.

Anna Atkins - algae

Anna Atkins, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions (1843-1853)

This was the first book to be illustrated exclusively with photographic images, which were made by Anna Atkins (1799-1871), an English botanist. In fact her images were produced using a simple form of photography called the cyanotype process. Objects, in this case British algae, were placed on paper treated with chemicals and then left in direct sunlight. The light caused a chemical reaction to take place, turning the exposed paper blue. A white image of the algae remained.

Robert Newstead FRS, original drawings of British Coccidae (c.1900)

Robert Newstead FRS, original drawings of British Coccidae (c.1900)

Newstead (1859-1947) left school when he was ten years old, and worked as a gardener. He was a keen amateur naturalist, and was encouraged to prepare a book on British Coccidae, or scale insects. He prepared the beautiful, highly detailed illustrations of these tiny creatures himself, and set standards that remained unsurpassed for many years. His pioneering work on agricultural pests led to work in other fields, including medical entomology and parasitology, and election as Fellow of the Royal Society.

Alexander von Humboldt FRS, Voyage de Humboldt et Bonpland

Alexander von Humboldt FRS, Voyage de Humboldt et Bonpland (Paris, 1811)

Humboldt (1769-1859) and Aimé Bonpland (1773-1858) travelled together in South America between 1799 and 1804, exploring and describing the region scientifically for the first time. Bonpland classified about 60000 new plants, and Humboldt studied the fertilizing properties of guano, among other things. Humboldt's printed descriptions of their discoveries introduced Europeans to this new world, and made Humboldt one of the most famous men in Europe.

Johann Wagler, Descriptiones et Icones Amphibiorum (Munich, 1828)

Johann Wagler, Descriptiones et Icones Amphibiorum (Munich, 1828)

Wagler (1800-1832) was a German herpetologist, and Director of the Zoological Museum at the University of Munich. Like other naturalists of the period he worked extensively on specimens collected in the new world. This nocturnal tree-dwelling snake is native to South East Asia.

John Gould FRS, The Mammals of Australia (London, 1863)

John Gould FRS, The Mammals of Australia (London, 1863)

After working as a taxidermist (he stuffed the first giraffe sent to England), Gould (1804-1881) became a publisher of high-quality books depicting birds and animals. Initially his wife Elizabeth worked as his artist, but after her death Gould employed other artists who worked from his sketches. His visit to Australia resulted in his seven-volume Birds of Australia (1840-1848), influential in describing many species for the first time.