Illustrated Life



For something a bit different this week, I thought I would share with you some fascinating illustrations that I came across a few weeks ago.

I found “The Complete Encyclopedia of Illustration” by J.G. Heck, in a local cafe – they have a whole wall of books to dive into there and this one caught my eye.

First published in 1851, as “The Iconographic Encyclopedia of Science, Literature and Art”, the work was based on one of the finest encyclopedias of its day, the “Bilderatlas” by Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus. It contains over 12,000 black and white engravings, illustrating just about everything a Victorian reader could have possibly imagined. It is separated into ten major sections – Mathematics and Astronomy, Natural Sciences, Geography and Planography, History and Ethnology, Military and Naval Sciences, Naval Sciences, Architecture, Mythology and Religious Rites, Fine Arts, and Technology.

Each single item is painstakingly captured – some fall into dreamlike representations of clouds, birds, and creatures, some show the fascinations and inventions of scientific fervour, and the quest for discovery. As well as finding each illustration totally fascinating, I love the language used to describe each one – the beautiful Latin names that roll off your tongue, and the intriguing descriptions which transport you back to a time of mysterious, yet to be discovered worlds.

As well as providing me with a great moment of tea and inspiration, this book has reminded me to always keep looking and noticing – in times where we feel that all is discovered, it is warming and uplifting to be reminded of the curious beauties, oddities and fascinations in the world, and the depth of human endeavour it has taken, and still takes, to discover and record them.

I hope you enjoy my selections! Click the images to see larger representations.


Plate 26: Phenomena of clouds and light.

1-9. Phenomena in clouds

10-12. Rainbows

13. Aurora borealis

14. Midnight sun in the polar regions


Plate 16: Theories of force and gravity; demonstrations of these and other physical laws


4. Parallelopipedon (yep) of forces

14. Illustrating Varignon’s funicular machine

17, 18. Atwood’s machine for demonstrating the freely falling of bodies


Plate 92: Members of the orders Anseriformes, Pelecaniformes, Charadiiformes, and Sphenisciformes


1. Carbo cormoranus, cormorant

7. Anser segetum, bean goose

10. Merges cucullatus, hooded merganser


Plate 228: Gymnasium and acrobatics

Upper division

1-12. The German gymnasium

Lower division

1-8. Acrobatic feats