Nature in Profile

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Naturalist Alexander von Humboldt inspired a new visual genre to explode in the early 1800s: Views that juxtaposed the profiles of real mountains within fantasy landscapes. This composition helped viewers visually compare mountain heights, vegetation, and animal ranges, in a way not possible to see in real life. The success of these collages was twofold: They promoted graphic discourse across science and helped educate and popularize geography with the general public. They are a celebration of both nature’s grandeur and human achievement, showing our ability to explore, measure, and ascend.


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Plant Geography

Tableau physique des Iles Canaries. Géographie des plantes du Pic de Ténériffe

Alexander von Humboldt, Aimé Bonpland, L. Marchais, Leopold de Buch, Charles Smith

1817, Paris

In 1799 and on their way to South America, Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland stopped in the Canary Islands where they saw Mount Teide, their first volcano. It was a significant encounter that made an impression, even after their epic six-year expedition to the Americas. Back in Europe, Humboldt spent decades reporting their scientific explorations in over thirty volumes. Many are lavish with illustrations based on his field sketches.

This cutaway of Mount Teide details different vegetation zones up the volcano side and labels geologic and other landmarks beyond the profile’s ridge. Humboldt’s drive to see the relationships between the physical sciences—the unity of nature—required painstaking observation and data collection. His work inspired generations of scientists and naturalists, especially Charles Darwin’s own scientific expedition to South America. ❧


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Comparative View of the Heights of the Principal Mountains in the World

Charles Smith

1816, London

Smith constructs a fantasy landscape to display the heights of mountains in the Western and Eastern Hemispheres. The mountaintop print is an early example of pictorial collages, which became a popular convention that was extended to compare world river lengths and building heights. The work is a celebration of nature’s grandeur, but also of human achievement: Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac’s hot air balloon (top right) flies higher than a condor (top left); Alexander von Humboldt climbs Chimborazo (top left), then considered the “Highest of the Andes.” ❧

Watch this map in motion in the form of our one-of-a-kind keepsake, created specially for the exhibit.


Comparative View

of the Principal Mountains and Rivers in the World

John Lothian

1848, Glasgow

Lothian’s comparison of mountain heights stands out for its minimal geometric take on a theme that had already produced three decades of painted landscape renditions. Look past the dominant isosceles design to notice pictorial skylines, lakes, and volcanic flames. Annotations of famous ascents include Gay-Lussac’s hot air balloon and Humboldt’s Chimborazo climb. River lengths flank the mountains, also organized by continent. ❧

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View of Nature in all Climates

from the Equator to the Arctic Circle

James Reynolds

1852, London

An uninterrupted landscape stretches from the equator to the north pole. The relative angles of the sun's equinoctial rays are drawn in the sky and emphasized with a warm-to-cool color spectrum. The accompanying triangle with analemma can be aligned with these rays to show the sun’s positions at that latitude throughout the year.

Reynolds plays with juxtaposition and scale to show the effects of the sun’s rays on nature: Biomes blend into each other impossibly fast. An exotic range of flora and fauna are featured in the foreground. The compressed view sometimes creates odd partners, such as the tiger placed in front of Mexican volcanoes.

Human skylines and industry are on the map too, but they are generally not the objects of attention. The exception is the depiction of British industry in the middle of the landscape. Reynolds did not believe that the same rays that caused plants and animals to flourish near the equator were as conducive to the growth of civilization. In an accompanying text he expressed a bias for the changing seasons of temperate climates, claiming they produced “Man’s purest and most perfect type.” ❧

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Animal and Vegetable Life of the Different Zones

Cram's Unrivaled Family Atlas of the World

George Franklin Cram

1882, Chicago

Fauna and flora stretch from pole to pole through the polar, temperate, and tropic zones. Agricultural laborers anchor the globe’s corners, harvesting grain, apples, cotton, and other natural products. The paper white halos around each animal almost elevate them to icons. Penguins are located particularly far from home.

Cram's Unrivaled Family Atlas of the World augmented its maps with many inventive pictorial and geometric information graphics to catalog world peoples and the improvements technology had made on their lives. ❧

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Vertical and Latitudinal Distribution of Animal Life

Atlas of Zoogeography

J.G. Bartholomew, W. Eagle Clarke, Percy H. Grimshaw

1911, Edinburgh

Exaggerated vertical peaks and warped geography show the whole earth across a set of profiles. Each is a cartoon rendition that still feels scientific, especially against the grid background. Green shading shows the limit of crops, such as palms, wine, and maize. Blue and red lines show where animals generally range. Their styling is crisply differentiated, making it possible to track each animal. The sidebar water depths add another direction for the eye to explore. Do not miss how the island of Madagascar is distinct from the rest of Africa. It is exemplary of how Bartholomew elegantly balanced abstract and pictorial depiction. ❧


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