Inside: A collection of copy-right free vintage nature illustrations by the Dutch artist Jans Brandes.
While browsing the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam’s digital collection, I came across a Dutch artist named Jan Brandes and his incredible illustrated sketchbook. I knew I needed to add his work to the site’s vintage natural history collection.
In 1776, Brandes was appointed a physician for the Dutch East India Company (VOC). And was sent to the Dutch colony of Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon). He spent the next decade travelling throughout the region, documenting the local flora and fauna in watercolours and drawings.
He was particularly interested in the plants and animals used in traditional medicine. His vintage nature illustrations are incredibly detailed and accurate. They give us a fascinating glimpse into the natural world of the 18th century.
Jan Brandes Vintage Nature Sketches
During his travels throughout the Dutch East Indies, Jan documented everything he saw – from the tiniest insect to a giant elephant. His sketchbook is a true treasure trove of information. Incredibly he captured so much detail in his drawings without the benefit of modern technology.
The highlights of Brandes’ nature illustrations are in the Rijksmuseum’s collection. They include his depictions of exotic birds, such as the colourful lorikeet. And detailed sketches of Asian elephants that give a sense of the size and majesty of these beautiful creatures.
His sketches of Asian plant life are highly regarded, including depictions of everything from medicinal herbs to fruit trees. And the drawings of insects and other small creatures are notable for their meticulous detail and scientific accuracy.
One of the things that makes Brandes’ drawings so unique is how he captures the essence of each subject. His nature drawings are not merely scientific illustrations; they are works of art that convey a sense of the beauty and wonder of the natural world. No wonder they are so highly valued by scientists, artists, and nature lovers alike!
How To Download The Nature Illustrations
To download the Jan Brandes sketch that you want, click on the title above that image. A higher-resolution image will open in another window in your browser. You can save it to your device or print it if you click on that sketch.
All the nature illustrations here are in the Public Domain and Copy-right free. They are arranged by subject.
Vintage Plant Sketches
A selection of the vintage botanical illustrations and drawings featured in Jan Brandes sketch books.
One of the most delicious tropical fruits and a firm favourite of mine.
Translated inscription: ‘” Mangosteen grows from a trunky straight tree with a round crown, with thick hard leaves. The outer skin is tough and bitter, but the white inside is soft and tastes sweet, almost like peaches or apricots; it has a smooth stone in every part, which tastes bitter; one can tell by the tenth rose how many parts and pips it contains his, as long as the same number always corresponds”. 8 Dec 1784.
Translated inscription: “Is a thick and smooth leaf of the round and short mangosteen tree, with heavy, brittle branches hanging down below with its fruits, which are very heavy, bent downwards, shown on the former side.“
Colour nature drawing of a tropical landscape with a large tree and figure in the centre. This was sketched in Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
Colour drawing of a piece of stem and flower of a plant that occurs on the Cape of Good Hope.
Colour nature drawing of a bursting pineapple.
Inscription: ” Siri or Betel leaf, with klyne ribs on the outside, grow as a climb on kadondong trees planted against it, or sticks arranged in rows always capped from above. Jan 14. 1785.“
Chewing betel leaves is a common practice in many parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands and is believed to have a mild stimulant effect similar to caffeine. In some cultures, betel leaves are also used in traditional medicine for their anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.
Check out these other tropical leaf prints.
Colour drawing of a pinang tree (or areka palm or betel palm) with its fruits, the so-called areka or betel nuts.
Vintage nature sketches of a pisang (tree), a breadfruit tree (or jackfruit) and a coconut tree.
Jackfruit is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, with some fruits weighing up to 100 pounds! It has a distinctive flavour and texture, often described as a cross between a pineapple and a banana.
Inscription: ‘”The sure and pungent smell – almost like human excrement – of this fruit is intolerable to most Europeans; it spreads throughout the house and causes many Europeans not to eat them. The ones they like to eat do not smell the unpleasant smell.”
Vintage colour illustration of a tropical flower in bloom by Jan Bandes.
Vintage Bird Sketches
A selection of the bird drawings and paintings featured in Brandes sketchbooks.
Inscription: “Ceylon’s Birdie, it marches like a wagtail, does not hop, lives on flies and caterpillars. Nov 28. 1785″.
‘Ceylon Adam’s apple. is poisonous. it closes one’s throat so that one cannot eat or drink for three days. “
Vintage coloured sketches of a Salmon Crested cockatoo.
Inscription: “‘Ambonese large cockatoo, called Béka in Buginese as big as a hen. This one I brought from East India to Sweden and had there for a long time. He was reddish-white, with crimson feathers under the long crest of feathers; he could speak and flute coarsely like a man. Drawn October 30, 1784. “
Colour illustrations of a Ceylon lovebird in various poses on a perch.
Ambon is an Indonessian Island. Coloured sketches of various parrots and cockatoos, including a Purple naped lory, Sulphur-crested cockatoo, coconut Lorikeet and other red parrots.
Colour nature sketch of a stork-like bird.
Nautre coloured illustration of an ‘amakoea’ pigeon found on the Cape of Good Hope, sitting on a projecting beam.
Colour drawing of a crested bird and a sprig of rowan berries.
Translated inscription: “East Indian quail male. The female is completely grey as the male looks from the back”.
A crowned pigeon as a big as a turkey.
Vintage Nature Illustrations of Insects
A collection of insect drawings from the sketch book.
A vintage nature sketch of several insects, including a planthopper, common house cricket and a cockroach.
Full size colour drawing of a green and a black grasshoppers.
Translated inscription: “The Flying Leaf drawn after the dried Insect when they are alive they are wholly green.“‘
Translated inscription: “8 glittering corals on the front of a spider’s head, after probably her eyes, drawn through a microscope.”
“Another spider head also with 8 eyes, of which the middle 4 were black and the others as if filled with water. Drawn through the microscope.”
Vintage colour nature butterfly illustrations including a Java butterfly and two Swedish butterflies.
The colour nature sketch of a larva living in a mushroom is depicted next to it, and different beetle forms emerge from the larva. Larva and beetle are seen through the microscope.
Several glowworms drawn through a microscope.
For more illustrations of insects by Dutch naturalists, check out the works of Maria Sibylla Merian – she is best known for her meticulous paintings of insects, particularly butterflies and moths, which she observed during her travels to Suriname and other parts of South America.
Also, Joris Hoefnagel (1542-1600) was a Flemish artist who worked in the Netherlands and is known for his exquisite insect art.
Vintage Illustrations of Elephants and Other Mammals
Zoological drawings from Jan Brandes albums.
One of Jan Brandes’s favourite subjects in his sketchbooks was elephants. His drawings of elephants are particularly noteworthy for their accuracy and attention to detail.
Brandes captured the distinct physical features of these majestic creatures, such as their wrinkled skin and prominent tusks, as well as their behaviour in the wild. His sketches also provide insights into how elephants were used by local people, such as for transportation and in religious ceremonies.
A black and white drawing of a one year old elephant and a pencil sketch of its leg and trunk.
Colour drawing of an elephant drawn obliquely from behind. Three Sinhalese sit on his back.
Black and white illustrations of the ‘grey monkey’s with white beards in different poses.
A detailed nature drawing of a squirrel found in Ceylon.
Tranlasted inscription: “Capsche Mole, small and large up to 1 foot long, black, brown, and pied.”
Translated inscription: “Lemur tardigradus on the ship March 25, 1786, slept all day with his snout in his chest, in the evening & at night he walked about in his cage, and climbed upside down, he ate banana & rice. He had a cub that he hid between his paws.“
Vintage Illustrations of Lizards
A collection of colourful nature illustrations of lizards featured in Jan Brandes’s skectch book albums.
Large house lizard. Dwelt in the roofs, the old trees’ holes, and where it is dark. Lives on vermin, flies, and other insects that fly into the houses.
“Land and water lizard, a great one indeed, lives along the ditches of flies and worms; they are abundant. They are not very shy and do not harm people, but their bite is poisonous, have scales like fish, also climb on trees, and when their tails are thrown off, they grow back again.”
“March 8, 1785 Tree lizard, changes colour, then becomes yellow, green, brown, black, after the colour it sits on, it also changes colour when one taunts it; has a round tongue like a fish. Maybe this is the chameleon.”
“Catches the mosquitoes at night in the houses, walks upside down against the attic and mirrors and glass along the smooth walls, her legs are carved with very fine lips so that they can grasp even the finest pores, or inequalities, and cling to it; they change colour, like the Chameleon, after the colour of that which they sit on, white, green, grey, black-eyed.“
“Has a blue two-pointed tongue, grow 3 feet long, are poisonous, sting horses and buffaloes that they must die, eat fowl, climb everywhere, and live both, and most, in the water as on land, run very fast, and hide under the water and in the mud if they are pursued, they stop at the cemeteries, are eaten by the Chinese and Portuguese, also by some Europeans, the meat tastes better than fowl, but the locals don’t eat them.”
Vintage Illustrations of Sealife
Fish and other sealife drawings from Jan Brandes album.
Nature drawings of four fish, garfish, flatfish, cuttlefish and flying fish.
Two color drawings and a sketch of octopus-like small shellfish.
Drawing of two whales Jan Brandes had spotted from his ship.
“This North Caper was seen just as we passed the tropics Capricorni, guessing about 40 feet long, he beat his Fin on the water in turning, and rose all 100 counts and spewed water, his tail lay flat, and not rising up like most fish.“
Black and white drawing of a hammerhead shark seen from two sides.
Colour natural history drawing of a sea jellyfish when swimming and on land.
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