Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel was a German biologist, naturalist, philosopher, physician, professor, marine biologist, and artist who discovered, described and named thousands of new species, mapped a genealogical tree relating all life forms, and coined many terms in biology.
Haeckel initially studied medicine to please his family, but his real passion was biology, something he discovered while he was still a medicine student and his professor Johannes Müller, physiologist and anatomist, took him on a summer expedition to observe small sea creatures off the coast of Heligoland in the North Sea.
In 1859, when Haeckel was 25, travelled to Italy with the help of his parents. Haeckel spent some time in Napoli, exploring and discovering his talent as an artist. Then he went to Messina, where began to study radiolarians. Like Goethe and Humboldt, his science was influenced by deep his aesthetic aspirations and those little exquisite creatures, satisfied both.
In 1864, young Haeckel sent to Darwin, two folio volumes on radiolarians. The gothic beauty of these drawings impressed Darwin. He wrote to Haeckel that “were the most magnificent works which I have ever seen, and I am proud to possess a copy from the author“.
He was one of the first to state that humans evolved from apes and life evolved from non-living matter. He claimed that evidence of human evolution could be found in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Eugene Dubois, inspired by Haeckel’s ideas, went to Indonesia and found the fossil remains of a hominid, later reclassified as Homo erectus.
But Haeckel was a man of contradictions. His belief in Recapitulation Theory (“ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”) was one of his biggest mistakes. His affinity for the German Romantic movement influenced his political beliefs and Stephen Jay Gould wrote that Haeckel’s biological theories, supported by an “irrational mysticism” and racial prejudices contributed to the rise of Nazism. Despite those faults, he made great contributions in the field of biology and his legacy as scientific illustrator is extraordinary.
Haeckel was a major inspiration for our collection 2016/17 and the "Deep sea" pattern was created as a medley of many of Haeckel's illustrations.
Ernst Haeckel died on August 9, 1919 in Germany at the age of 85.