Brain Pickings

Proteus: Ernst Haeckel at the Intersection of Art & Science

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More than a year ago, we featured Art Forms in Nature — a fascinating 1904 book by German biologist and artist Ernst Haeckel, full of beautifully illustrated artistic interpretations of the biological forms Haeckel studied. His work had a profound influence on art movements, scientific thought and entire ideologies, from Art Nouveau and Surrealism to Thomas Edison to Freud and Lenin. Proteus is a remarkable documentary about Haeckel’s work and others he influenced, a breathtaking intersection of science and art 20 years in the making.

Every age has its own image of the world, and every image reflects the vision of its time and of its maker.”

Ernst Haeckel: Intersection of art and science

Among other marvels, the film features stunning images of the mineral exoskeletons of ancient one-celled marine organisms known as radiolarian — Haeckel single-handedly named, classified and illustrated nearly 4,000 of the 5,000 existing species, finding in their dazzling variety the key to the creative power of nature.

The radiolarian are like an alphabet of possibilities, as if the ancient sea were dreaming in its depths all the future permutations of organic and invented forms, from backbones to bridges and from the Earth to the stars.”

Proteus is at once a feat of science and an astonishing pinnacle of art, revealing with rigor and whimsy the magnificent meeting point of human curiosity and nature’s magic.

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