17th century to today

Nature has inspired many artists. Visual representations, from the earliest drawings to the latest digital images, are invaluable to scientists in their study of the natural world.

Natural history art and modern imaging techniques help scientists research, record and classify the natural world. While the images are often beautiful, they also need to be detailed and accurate to be useful to science.

The desire to understand and systematically classify the natural world was prompted by the discovery of so many species new to science in the 17th and 18th centuries. Recording species visually became an essential element of this process and is as important today as it was 300 years ago.

As science developed, imaging styles evolved and techniques changed. You can follow this progression in the 18th century Linnaean style of Georg Ehret and the Ecological style of William Bartram as described in the video above.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, techniques of wood-block and metal-plate engraving and printing meant that detailed images could be published in significant numbers so that naturalists and scientists could share information much more easily.

Today, drawings remain important in the study of nature but images are also created by scientists, imaging specialists and photographers using a variety of modern technologies. These non-invasive tools include electron microscopes, micro-CT and X-ray scanners. Satellite data also gives us a different but equally valuable perspective of our world.