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Birds & Botanicals: Backyard Art & Science

/ Art Shots

Curated by Haley Rutledge, Research Fellow

Are you looking for a fun way to combine art and science? We’ve got you covered! This digital exhibition explores how art and science were intertwined throughout the 18th and 19th century. Activities are included that you can do from home using the BMA’s collection of bird and botanical prints as inspiration.

Illustrations of plants and animals have a vast history dating back to antiquity. These illustrations were used by scientists, physicians, and gardeners alike as scientific tools to describe biological specimens and their properties. The first known botanical and zoological prints appeared when modern printmaking was introduced in the 1400s. In 1735, Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus introduced a new system of biological classification. The Linnaeus system, along with many advances in the printing process in the 18th century, caused this genre of printmaking to grow in popularity. This remained a trend until the new medium of photography largely replaced these prints beginning in the mid-19th century. The majority of prints in this exhibition hail from this “golden age” of botanical and zoological printmaking.

Fun Tip: All of the prints in this exhibition were originally published as part of a book. Following each section, we’ve included links to the full digital versions of each book.

Audubon Illustrates Alabama’s Birds


Spring is a great time to start bird watching. The prints Meadowlark and Green Heron are from the series Birds of America by John James Audubon, created between 1827 and 1838.

Fine Art Florals in Your Backyard

Priscilla Susan Bury’s depictions of flowers, Selection of Hexandrian Plants Belonging to the Natural Order Amaryllidæ and Liliacæ, were created at the print workshop of Robert Havell, Jr. while he also worked on Audubon’s Birds of America.

Delicate Details of Natural Beauty

Nature printing is one of the oldest forms of printing, dating back to ancient times.

A Fruitful Pursuit of Art and Science

These prints take a highly scientific approach to recording information. The first print, Wild Strawberries, records several variant types of strawberries and different stages in the development of a plant. The second print, Antholyza Aethiopica, analyses the different parts of the flower clearly piece by piece.

Add a Little Landscape… Add a Little Poetry…

A popular way of depicting plant forms throughout the history of botanical illustration is to set the specimen against a blank background, but these two prints break away from that tradition. The illustrator of Der Schieß-Platz in Augsburg die Rosen-Au genant lays out the plants throughout the book in a typical scientific fashion. He then adds the city and gardens around his home in the backgrounds making the plants appear to be floating above.