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Animal Prints

Similar to the encyclopedic documentation of botanical prints, scientists used printmaking techniques to create multi-volume collections of natural history illustrations. The best example of animal prints is the Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner’s 4,500 page Historiae animalium. Printed in the mid 16th century, it aimed to closely document the details of every living thing known to man, even fictional animals, through woodcuts.

In the late 1500s, Albrect Dürer created strikingly detailed images of animals, less for science than for the enjoyment of collectors interested in science, exploration, and travel. Despite the number of well-respected artists that created prints with animal subject matter, animal illustrations were seen as a method of practicing different techniques and indicating technical mastery than fine art, and as such fell out of favor until the 1700s.


Quick Facts

  • 18th century British artist and engraver George Stubbs was responsible for reviving interest in animal illustrations by creating engravings of his paintings of horses for a wider audience
  • 16th and 17th century prints of animals were often created without the artist ever seeing the animal in person. Thus prints from this time period may appear exaggerated and distorted today
  • In the 19th century, John James Audubon created one of the largest bodies of zoological works called "Birds of America." Audubon worked with a professional printmaker to create engravings and lithographs from his drawings and paintings, often making the prints large enough to represent the animal in life-size

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