Edouard Joseph d’Alton’s Illustrations of Animal Skeletons (1821–1838)

In a series of comparative studies published from 1821 to 1838, and collected under the title Die vergleichende Osteologie [The Comparative Osteology], the Baltic German biologist Heinz Christian Pander (1794–1865) and the Italian-born German naturalist and artist Edouard Joseph d’Alton (1772–1840) presented an extraordinary illustrated atlas of animal bones.

The diverse range of animals the work covers (or rather uncovers) include elephants and hippopotamuses, hyenas and polar bears, giraffes and camels, porcupines and red squirrels, as well as the extinct megatherium or giant ground sloth. They are depicted both as complete skeletons inside a silhouette of the living animal and also in separate studies of individual skulls and other bones.

The collaborator responsible for these elegant illustrations was d’Alton, a professor of art history at the Prussian Academy of Arts and the University of Bonn, where one of his students was a young Karl Marx. Pander, who lived in Latvia and was a member of the Saint Petersburg Academy of Sciences, is remembered for his extensive research of fossils in the Baltic regions. There, he made groundbreaking studies of trilobites (the extinct arthropod familiar from natural history museums) and first described conondonts (an extinct eel-like creature).

You can browse our selection of d’Alton’s memorable illustrations below, with a focus on the striking images which show the skeletal forms within the living silhouettes.

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