Deck the halls with siphonophorae

by John Holbo on December 14, 2008


It’s a Flickr set. Plus I set up a CafePress thingy.

I started some of this last year: “And so in the end it was the littlest shoggoth of all who guided Santa’s sleigh that night.” Made some printables and gift tags They’re still there, if you want ’em. But if you want to do anything with the images, downloading the images from Flickr is probably simplest. I put them up under a CC license.

This took way too long.



muzz 12.15.08 at 3:30 am

pdf of Kunstformen der Natur

i’d also recommend this documentary “Proteus” by David Lebrun

For the nineteenth century, the world beneath the sea played much the same role that “outer space” played for the twentieth. The ocean depths were at once the ultimate scientific frontier and what Coleridge called “the reservoir of the soul”: the place of the unconscious, of imagination and the fantastic. PROTEUS uses the undersea world as the locus for a meditation on the troubled intersection of scientific and artistic vision. The one-hour film is based almost entirely on the images of nineteenth century painters, graphic artists, photographers and scientific illustrators, photographed from rare materials in European and American collections and brought to life through innovative animation.
The central figure of the film is biologist and artist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919). As a young man, Haeckel found himself torn between seeming irreconcilables: science and art, materialism and religion, rationality and passion, outer and inner worlds. Through his discoveries beneath the sea, Haeckel would eventually reconcile these dualities, bringing science and art together in a unitary, almost mystical vision. His work would profoundly influence not only biology but also movements, thinkers and authors as disparate as Art Nouveau and Surrealism, Sigmund Freud and D.H. Lawrence, Vladimir Lenin and Thomas Edison.

Man’s dream of uniting nature and art forms the subject of Proteus, a stimulating scientific inquiry that may cause audiences to look at (and think about) the world around them in dramatically different terms. The first feature-length work by documentary and avant-garde filmmaker David Lebrun, one-of-a-kind pic, reportedly some two decades in the making, should become a sought-after item on the fest circuit and for experimental film showcases. Tube sales should also be brisk, though Lebrun’s majestic, laboriously hand-crafted images more than deserve the splendor of the big screen.

Pic begins as an ostensibly straightforward investigation into the life and work of 19th century artist and biologist Ernst Haeckel, whose major work, Art Forms in Nature, synthesized his two disparate passions by presenting lithographs of some 4,000 species of previously unidentified single-celled sea creatures called radiolarian. Haeckel did both the identification and the lithography.

Haeckel’s story becomes the jumping-off point for a series of fecund associations in which Lebrun establishes connective tissue between Haeckel and such unlikely compatriots as Sigmund Freud and Vladimir Lenin, the architects of the first transatlantic telegraph cable and the fictional title character of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner (beautifully voiced by Richard Dysart).
It’s a very dense amount of material to pack into an hour of screentime, but Lebrun manages to make it seem effortless, never moving too fast for non-science types to keep up. In the end, Lebrun keeps bringing it all back, dazzlingly, to Haeckel.
Like his subject’s own work, Proteus (pic appropriately takes its name from the shape-shifting Greek god of the sea) does not merely represent a casual interest in a subject. Rather, what gives the film its propulsive strength is the sense that Lebrun has fully given himself over to Haeckel, allowing himself to become consumed to the point of near-obsession.

Particular energy has been spent on finding the ideal way to convey Haeckel’s unique images in a distinctly cinematic vessel. Proteus is a constant visual treat, as Lebrun takes photographs of Haeckel’s actual drawings and animates them in ways that make Haeckel’s splendiferous orbs and tentacles dance in an array of carefully choreographed patterns. (Technique recalls what Thom Andersen did with the photographs of Muybridge in his 1974 Eadwaerd Muybridge, Zoopraxographer.)

In the end, Lebrun makes auds contemplate the majestic vastness of the natural universe and its complex artistic perfection in ways that even Haeckel could only have imagined.

— Scott Foundas, Variety

happy holidays


Sage Ross 12.17.08 at 3:33 am

Browsing the science library at Yale a few years ago, I happened across Kunstformen der Natur (the original, although bound post-publishing). Remarkably, they let me check it out (after installing electronic barcodes and such, since no one had checked it out since they computerized the checkout system). I kept it for about a year and a half, and if I had had my head on straight, I would have just reported it lost and paid the $75 flat fee.

Scanning and uploading all the prints was the first thing I did on Wikipedia that I was proud of.


jholbo 12.17.08 at 5:08 am

Sage, that’s great! Yours were the scans I used, then! (Now if only you had scanned them in at 300 dpi instead of 170 (I think it is). But I am churlish to look a gift squid in the beak. Thanks so much!


Sage Ross 12.18.08 at 2:24 am

I scanned them on a scanner I found on the side of the road, and that was the best it could do. The scanner was also increasingly prone to misalignment towards the end, where the scanned area didn’t quite line up with the transparent part of the bed. There were also a lot of images that had coffee stains or some such, especially around the borders. Alas.

Maybe I’m calculating wrong, but I think the images on Wikimedia Commons are 300 dpi, though. I measured the width of the actual image area of an original of one of them on my wall (7 and 11/16 inches), and looked at the wiki image width (2,276 px), which comes out to about 300.

I’m surprised you used those, though. I assumed you had used these:
Although now I notice that not all the ones you used are included there. If I recall correctly, those also used to be under non-commercial CC license… since they are now under cc-by-sa, maybe I should add those to Wikimedia Commons as well.

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