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The use of Coral image in visual culture in Natural History thus Art history: Influence/research

Following European art History, I’ve learned that the subject of Natural History always played a key role in art or vice versa.  Visual cultures form a catalyst role with other fields of work such as science, philosophy, music, language and literature.   

It is well known that Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23 – August 25, AD 79), better known as Pliny the Elder (/ˈplɪni/), was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian.

Spending most of his spare time studying, writing or investigating natural and geographic phenomena in the field, he wrote an encyclopedic work, Naturalis Historia (Natural History), which became a model for all other encyclopedias. 

The book often indicated as the bible of Europian art history or the first documentation of art thus artists.

In this book, he mentioned the pigment named ‘Ultra-Marine’ in blue. I stumbled on the word (…..) Ultra Marine. Ultra means beyond and marine is sea or ocean. I had a look into the ancient world map of the empire of Alekzander who wanted to invade India the civilization of Indus Valley.

And again after the medieval period, Europe’s imperial journey begins to trace the land of Indus Valley crossing the ocean. This time Europe entering again another era of Renascence and the study of marine culture thus natural history plays a vital role in this time. Exploration of the world, the discovery of new species and the invention of new technology thus science opens up a new era which highly relevant till today.

During this time, therefore, artists are again playing a key role as only they could capture, document the visuals through their harnessed skill. 


I had a look again in the index of imagery of marine life Natural History Museum in London and The Linnaean Society in London and found that a book written by of Eugenius Johann Christoph Esper a naturalist in Germany ‘Die Pflanzenthiere in Ubbildungen Nach der Natur’ printed and published in Nuremberg 1791 one of the highly illustrated book and very prominent work of the diagram of corals.

In Darwin’s book The structure and distribution of Coral Reefs published in 1842 he explains his observation of coral reefs and its traces all over the world through a map.


Later 1844 Darwin’s book Geological Observations on the Volcanic Islands in (page 51) CALCAREOUS INCRUSTATION an image of woodcut represents the visual diagram to explain the volcanic rock and existence of animal matter ‘an incrustation of calcareous and animal matter, coating the tidal rocks at Ascension’.  









In his extensive research observation, he explains the connection between coral reef formation and volcanic rocks formation which shows that the species coral’s existence in the pre-Paleogene period to now.

Another illustration is very well known which connects coral images with natural history a book A Short History of the World published in 1922written by H.G. Wells (1866–1946).












When I look into these illustrations I see that the importance of visual representation in natural history is inseparable. Thus the association of wealth and power as the sea journeys were immensely expensive and therefore stands a projection of the nation’s power.

The exploration and expedition are the most obsessive word edify the linkage between the power structure in European society thus plays a key role in the contemporary western world.


In my work, I want to symbolize those links of the power structure using an image coral pondering what will be the most precious consumer of human civilization till today which is inseparable from the body (humans) and the site (this planet surface)  and yet uncontrollable, borderless.

Being born in the era when in one hand human civilization is trying to impose the power structure with a post-human achievement but then in other hands, this planet faces the threat from climate change like sea level rise and global warming due to the mass exploitation of the bio-space.

Now tracing the visual image history I chose to use a found image of the coral reef growth whereas the research shows that the layer of oxygen could be traced.

Further readings:

1) Die Pflanzenthiere in Ubbildungen Nach der Natur written by Eugenius Johann Christoph Esper published in 1791 (publisher Nèurnberg: in der Raspischen Buchhandlung)

2) The structure and distribution of Coral Reefs by Charles Darwin published in 1842

3) Geological Observations on the Volcanic Islands written by Charles Darwin published in 1844

4) A Short History of the World written by H.G. Wells published in 1922 by Cassell & Co, Ltd.

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