Scientific illustration represents aspects of science through visual means, particularly through observations and subsequent renderings of the natural world. The emphasis in scientific illustration is on accuracy and utility, rather than on aesthetics, although scientific illustrators are skilled artists and often known for aesthetic values. Their main areas of work are biological and anatomical illustrations and technical drawing for the engineering fields. In order to accomplish a good survey of visual communication design in this field, samples from cartography (which is not held to be a field of scientific illustration in the strict sense of the word) and pages from 18th century Encyclopedias have also been included into the contents of this page.


Scientific illustration was an important part of scientific communication prior to photography, but has retained its importance through selective renderings rather than lifelike accuracy, such as illustrations of stellar phenomena that are not visible to the human eye, or medical illustrations, which highlight particular parts of a system.

Historically, biological illustrations have been in use since the beginning of man's exploration and attempts to understand the world around him. In the Alexandrian era (356 – 323 BC), the Greek physician Herophilus performed public dissections and recorded his findings. In the 1st century AD, Pedanius Dioscorides compiled the De Materia Medica, a collection of medicinal information and recipes, containing illustrations of about 600 plants in all.

During the Renaissance, artist and scientist Leonardo DaVinci famously sketched his observations from human dissections, as well as his studies of plants and the flight of birds. In the mid-16th century, the physician Andreas Vesalius compiled and published the De humani corporis fabrica, a collection of textbooks on human anatomy superior to any illustrations that had been produced until that point. In the early 1600s, the explorer Étienne de Flacourt documented his travels to Madagascar, and illustrated the unique fauna there, setting a precedent for future explorers as world travel became a more feasible reality.


Going back to earlier periods in history, Egyptian frescoes seem to point at scientific depictions. There are, of course, many herbariums and medicinal books in Medieval Europe that were illustrated with drawings; but it is with the onset of the renaissance and especially the baroque and the age of the enlightenment, bringing about the spirit of scientific accuracy and of research that scientific illustrations really came into their own.

Andreas Vesalius (1514 - 1564) was a Flemish anatomist and author of one of the most influential books on human anatomy, De humani corporis fabrica (On the Workings of the Human Body). Vesalius is often referred to as the founder of modern human anatomy. Vesalius' name is also referred to as Andreas Vesal or Andreas van Wesel, depending on the source.



Anatomical drawings of Vesalius.

No matter how extreme Vesalius's drawings may seem, they do have a historical basis in the medieval / Renaissance anatomical drawings called the "wounded man."


Botanical drawings of Sydney Parkinson from the voyages of the HMS Endeavor.

Further reading and images


Sydney Parkinson: The voyage of HMS Endeavour (1768-1771), under the legendary Captain James Cook (1728 - 1779), was the first devoted exclusively to scientific discovery. This link below will you to a site that presents most of the botanical drawings and engravings prepared by artist Sydney Parkinson before his untimely death at sea, and by other artists back in England working from Parkinson's initial sketches.


Born in Scotland, Parkinson came to London in 1766 and was soon after engaged by Banks to work at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where he worked for a year before before joining the Endeavour. One of two on board artists, neither of whom survived the voyage, Parkinson died at sea shortly after leaving Java.


Further reading and images


Scientific illustrations of flora and fauna in the 17th and 18th Centuries


Johann Wilhelm Weinmann (1683-1741).

William Curtis (1746 - 1799).

Pierre Joseph Redouté (1759-l840).

Pierre Joseph Redouté (1759-l840).

The art of cartography

Martin Waldseemüller (1470 - 1522).

Martin Walseemüller map

Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594) "The Mercator Atlas."

Abraham Ortelius (1527 - 1598) "Theatrum Orbis Terrarum."


Johann Bayer (1572 – 1625) "Uranometria."

Astronomical maps by Julius Schiller, 1627 (left) and Stanislaw Lubienicki, 1668 (right).

Tables from "Cyclopedia."

Further reading and images


Cyclopaedia, or, A Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (folio, 2 vols.) was an encyclopedia published by Ephraim Chambers in London in 1728, and reprinted in numerous editions in the 18th Century. The Cyclopaedia was one of the first general encyclopedias to be produced in English.


Encyclopédie, or "Encyclopedia, or a systematic dictionary of the sciences, arts, and crafts" was an early encyclopedia, published in France beginning in 1751, the final volumes being released in 1780. The editor-in-chief Denis Diderot (1713 – 1784) was a French philosopher and writer, a prominent figure in what became known as the Enlightenment.

Pages from "Encyclopédie."

Architectural and technical drawings: The famous work entitled "French Architecture" was written and illustrated by Jacques-François Blondel between 1752-1756. The most significant churches, royal mansions, palaces, hotels, residences and other buildings of Paris, as well as holiday homes and castles on the outskirts of Paris and in other parts of France, built by the most celebrated architects". The full work contained 498 large-sized illustrations by celebrated architects showing panoramic views and detailed interior and exterior decoration composition drawings of 18th century notable buildings churches, royal palaces, monuments, parks, etc. A range of architectural styles can be viewed, and many of these buildings no longer exist or been remodelled, such as the Palace of Tuileries which was destroyed by fire in 1871. The initial four volume work was published by Charles-Antoine Jombert, one of the leading French printer-publishers of the 18th century.

L'Architecture Francoise (1752-1756).

Optimum viewing: 1920 x 1080 on Chrome, Opera and Explorer.  Safari and Firefox may not display correctly.

Disclaimer: This site was initially built for the usage of my own students at Sabancı University. It consists of material that has been collected from many different resources online, in order to facilitate their instruction. In other words, none of this material is original or a result of my own personal research. Therefore this site cannot be cited from for academic purposes.

For contact info please visit

Sydney Parkinson