(Update I, below)
Scientific illustration in early modern Europe emerged in a hodgepodge of Cultural and Philosophical Positions and came to careen though a wild set of illustrative practices and requirements. Both Leonardo Di Vinci and Albrecht Durer tried their hand at studies of plants, animals and the human body with an eye to coming to understand the mechanisms of the world, the mind of God, and how to create a proper (and undeceiving) mimesis for art.
In the Sixteenth Century two major works were published with a slew of influential botanical illustrations, Herbarum Vivae Eicones (1530) by Otto Brunfels and De Historia Stirpium (1542) by Leonhard Fuchs. Though both used an empirical method towards the illustrations and the plants they scrutinized, the subjective and theoretical differences were obvious in the plates which they both produced. Brunfels illustrations attempted to capture the unique material and individual aspects of the botanical object, while Fuchs, in a contrary direction, took the idea of the universal in nature as a penultimate reflection of reality and therefore eliminated the individual in the specific for the ideal of which they would all share.
Andreas Vesalius, creating the notion of the “organ”, shows how closely the visualization of a theory of science was thought necessary to a proper and correct understanding of the world, and fulfilled this need by working closely with Titian‘s artistic workshop to create the images for his famous De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543). This influential work showed the (male) human figure in classical poses which had the added distinction of being laid bare by dissection. The Telescope threw an added dimension into the mix of the eye/sight and in 1610 Galileo published his Sidereus Nuncius showing the irregularities of the surface of the earth’s moon along with illustrations of the surprising moons of Jupiter. Looking the other way, Robert Hooke’s Micrographia, which came out 55 years later, showed the unseeable of the minuscule through the much improved microscope.
With this in mind, my selection of images of current 2010 scientific illustration. Click on the Image for description and information, or just to run through the entire gallery (with contrast of the above images).
Other selections of the best of Contemporary Scientific Illustration (2010): AAAS -10 Breakthroughs of 2010; Northwestern Science in Society -2010 scientific images; The Star – top ten scientific leaps in pictures; and Popular Science – picks over 70 scientific images from 2010 (and with robots, too!).
The Guardian selects its own set of illustrations based on importance of discovery. A broad list, and interesting in the means of illustrations used.