The Art of Herpetology: Schlegel’s Reptiles and Amphibians

German ornithologist and herpetologist Hermann Schlegel hoped that the publication of good illustrations would stimulate public interest in reptiles and amphibians. Thus, he produced Abbildungen neuer oder unvollständig bekannter Amphibian (1837-44).

Schlegel, who eventually became director of the National Museum of Natural History in Leiden (Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie), is best-known for his research on birds, but his initial interest was in herpetology. Inspired by other beautifully-illustrated natural history books that had aroused public interest in their subjects, Schlegel compiled this work comprised of an atlas of 50 color plates and a short volume of text. Although the title mentions only amphibians, it describes and illustrates many reptile species as well.

It is unclear why the book’s title does not also mention reptiles. It has been suggested that the work’s original scope may have intended to cover only amphibians, and that the title was not adjusted after the scope broadened. This, however, is merely conjecture.

Unfortunately, the names of the artists who produced the drawings upon which these plates are based are unknown. Schlegel mentioned only that he received the illustrations from painters working in India.

The text volume of this work was digitized by Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University. The atlas was digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

 


Reference:
Stiassny, Melanie L.J. (2014). Schlegel’s Guide to Amphibians. Natural Histories Opulent Oceans: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library. New York: Sterling Publishing.

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Grace Costantino is the Outreach and Communication Manager for the Biodiversity Heritage Library. In this capacity, she developed and manages BHL's communication strategy, oversees social media initiatives, and engages with the public to excite audiences about the wealth of biodiversity heritage available in BHL.