Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel: A Brief Biography

The biography below is part taken from upon the entry for Haeckel in Wikipedia, with supplementary information from Ernst Haeckel, Art Forms in from the Oceans, and Visions of Nature: The Art and Science of Ernst Haeckel by Olaf Breidbach, both books published by Prestel.  A valuable and informed discussion of the context of his view and representation of nature is discussed in Lynn Gamwell’s book: Exploring the Invisible: Art, Science and the Spiritual.

Description: Haeckel portrait reduced.jpgErnst Haeckel (February 16, 1834 – August 9, 1919) was an eminent German biologist, naturalist, philosopher, physician, professor and artist, who discovered, described and named thousands of new species, and coined many terms in biology including anthropogeny ecology, phylum, phylogeny, and the kingdom Protista.  Haeckel promoted and popularized Charles Darwin's work in Germany and developed the controversial recapitulation theory ("ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny") claiming that an individual organism's biological development, or ontogeny, parallels and summarizes its species' entire evolutionary development, or phylogeny.

Ernst Haeckel was born in Potsdam (then part of Prussia).  In 1852, Haeckel completed studies at Cathedral High School of Merseburg.  Following this at his father’s encouragement Haeckel then went on to study medicine in Berlin and Würzburg.  Haeckel attained a doctorate in medicine in 1857, and subsequently received a license to practice medicine. He apparent was not comfortable with the clinical side of medicine and turned to mainstream science.  Haeckel studied under Karl Gegenbaur at the University of Jena for three years, earning a doctorate in zoology.

Description: Haeckel landscape_reduced.jpgThis period of his life appears to be somewhat unsettled.  He planned to go on an expedition with Gegenbaur, but the latter was unable to go.  Funded by his father, in 1859 Haeckel set off for Messina.  He commenced his fieldwork, in Naples, a major centre for marine studies.  He planned to work on the anatomy of starfish and sea urchins but the supply of these organisms by the local fishermen was unsatisfactory.  Haeckel became very disillusioned with science and turned to landscape painting – by chance meeting the artist Hermann Allermers.  They travelled and worked together and in his own words was at the point of abandoning natural science for landscape painting.  They had arrived at Messina when his father arrived and set him back on the path of science again.  He spent 6 months doing systematic research on marine plankton, the Strait of Messina provided a wealth of material, particularly radiolarians. 

This was a turning point for Haeckel, who returned to science and to Germany with 12 crates of samples.  

This in essence was the starting point of Haeckel’s long and distinguished career.  Gegenbaur encouraged Haeckel to habilitate, making himself available for, and in 1862 successfully being appointed as, professor of comparative anatomy at the University of Jena, where he remained for 47 years until he retired in 1909.

Between 1859 and 1866, Haeckel worked on many invertebrate groups, including radiolarians, poriferans (sponges) and annelids (segmented worms).  As product of his expedition to Messina, Haeckel named nearly 150 new species of radiolarians.  From 1866 to 1867, Haeckel made an extended journey to the Canary Islands Hermann Fol and during this period met with Charles Darwin, in 1866 at Down House in Kent, Thomas Huxley and Charles Lyell.  Over the period from 1859 to 1887 Haeckel named thousands of new species.

In 1867, he married Agnes Huschke.  Haeckel retired from teaching in 1909.  Haeckel's wife, Agnes, died in 1915, and Haeckel became substantially more frail and died on August 9, 1919.

Haeckel’s Images

The published artwork of Haeckel includes over 350 detailed, multi-colour illustrations of animals and sea creatures .

Haeckel’s images may be found at four sites: 

1) The full 100 plates, scanned from the 1904 edition of Kunstformen der Natur.  The manuscript contains a hotchpotch of images, only those of plankton from are reproduced on this site.  Images that have been cut or colour modified are presented separately.

2) The full text of Kunstformen der Natur is available on line this also contains the scanned images, although the quality is not as good as those in the Wikipedia collection.

3) His less well known images of radiolarians, published in Die Radiolarien: Rhizopoda Radiaria (Berlin, 1862), is also available on line.   The quality of the reproduction is not good, as there are gradients in the background.  Trying to clean up the images is unrewarding and a better solution is to obtain a copy of Art Forms from the Oceans (published by Prestel) and work from that.  At the time of writing it is in print and quite modestly priced – a well worth buy

4) Another rich source of Haeckel’s images and work are found is the reports of the Challenger Expedition: Report of the Scientific Results of the Voyage of H.M.S. Challenger - 1873-76 compiled by C. Wyville Thomson, and  John Murray.  An electronic edition has been prepared by Dr. David C. Bossard from original documents in the library holdings of Dartmouth College, Hanover New Hampshire. June, 2004.  There is copyright held by David C. Bossard, I am unclear of the status relating to the figures.

Haeckel prepared reports on four groups, links to the three planktonic groups are given below.

i) Deep-Sea Medusae: 

Zoology  Volume 4,Part 12, 1882, 154+20 pages with 32 plates.

ii)  Radiolarians:

Zoology  Volume 18, Part 40, 1887, 1803+188 pages with 140 plates. These are collected under four groups:





iii)  Siphonophores: 

Zoology  Volume 28, Part 77. 1888, 380+8 pages with 50 plates and 7 woodcuts.

Limited List of Other Published Work

Haeckel, l, E. (1864). “Beschreibung neuer craspedoten Medusen aus dem Golfe von Nizza.” Jena Z. Naturw. Bd. 1: 325-342.

Haeckel, E. (1865). Die familie der Russelquallen (Geryonida). Leipzig, Verlag von Wilhelm Engelmann.

Haeckel, E. (1866). Generelle morphologie der Organismen, vol. 2. Berlin, Verlag von Georg Reimer.

Haeckel, E. (1869). “Über die Crambessiden, eine neue Medusen Familie aus der Rhizostomeengruppe.” Z. wiss. Zool. 19(4): 509-537, pls. 38-39.

Haeckel, E. (1877). “Prodrom. Syst. Medus.” No. 103 [status not clear].

Haeckel, E. (1879). Das System der Medusen: Erster Theil einer Monographie der Medusen. Jena, G. Fischer.

Haeckel, E. (1880). System der Acraspeden. Zweite Halfte des System der Medusen. Jena, Denkschriften.

Haeckel, E. (1881). Die tiefseemedusen der Challenger-Reise und der organismus der medusen. Jena.

Haeckel, E. (1881). Metagenesis und hypogenesis von Aurelia aurita. Ein beitrag zur entwickelungsgeschichte und zur teratologie der medusen, von Ernst Haeckel. Mit zwei tafeln. Jena, G. Fischer.

Haeckel, E.-. (1888a). “System der Siphonophoren.” Jena Zeitschr. Naturwiss. 22: 1-46.

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