In the days before high-resolution colour photography, natural scientists had to be able to draw. Or hire someone else who was accomplished in the artistic craft and willing to work in tandem with the scientist.
Beautiful and meticulously detailed, today botanical illustrations from the 19th century have an aesthetic and historical value. And it turns out the internet has a brilliant resource that brings gorgeous vintage illustrations and scientific texts to your screen. For free.
The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is a consortium of natural history and botanical libraries that cooperate to digitize and make accessible the legacy literature of biodiversity held in their collections and to make that literature available for open access and responsible use as a part of a global “biodiversity commons.”
The BHL consortium works with the international taxonomic community, rights holders, and other interested parties to ensure that this biodiversity heritage is made available to a global audience through open access principles. In partnership with the Internet Archive and through local digitization efforts , the BHL has digitized millions of pages of taxonomic literature , representing tens of thousands of titles and over 100,000 volumes.
Below is a small selection of gorgeous botanical prints from BHL. Each image features a link to the original plate in the book, where you can also read more about the plants.
NB I highly recommend their very own collections section, where, amongst bizarre creatures and glorious flowers, you can peruse Charles Darwin’s personal library, complete with his original notes scribbled on the margins. Astonishing.