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46 Beautiful Vintage Nature Illustrations by Jan Brandes

Inside: Explore the beauty of the 18th century through the eyes of Jan Brandes with our curated selection of 46 nature illustrations. Available in the public domain, these sketches capture the essence of the natural world with intricate detail, making them ideal for home decor, educational projects, or personal collections.

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!

Jan Brandes Vintage nature illustrations pin

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.

Sketch 1: Mangosteen Fruit

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.

Jans Brandes vintage nature illustration of mangosteen fruit

Sketch 2: Mangosteen Leaf

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.

Jan Brandes Mangosteen leaf illustration

Sketch 3: Large Tropical Tree

Colour nature drawing of a tropical landscape with a large tree and figure in the centre. This was sketched in Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

Jans Brandes Large Tropical Tree Ceylon

Sketch 4: Red Flower

Colour drawing of a piece of stem and flower of a plant that occurs on the Cape of Good Hope.

Jan Brandes red flower

Sketch 5: Pineapple

Colour nature drawing of a bursting pineapple.

Jan Brandes Pineapple vintage sketch

Sketch 6: Betel Leaf

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.

Jan Bandes vintage nature illustration of Betel Leaf

Sketch 7: Pinang Tree

Colour drawing of a pinang tree (or areka palm or betel palm) with its fruits, the so-called areka or betel nuts.

Pinang Tree

Sketch 8: Tropical Fruit Trees

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.

vintage nature sketch tropical trees

Sketch 9: Durian

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.

sketch of durian fruit jan brandes

Sketch 10: Tropical Flower

Vintage colour illustration of a tropical flower in bloom by Jan Bandes.

Jan Brnades painting of a tropical flower

Vintage Bird Sketches

A selection of the bird drawings and paintings featured in Brandes sketchbooks.

Sketch 11: Indonesian Treecreeper

Vintage nature illustration of an indonesian tree creeper

Sketch 12: Wagtale and Fruit

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.

Nature Sketch of Wagtale and Adams apple fruit

Sketch 13: Cockatoos

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. “

Salmon Crested cockatoo sketches

Sketch 14: Lovebirds

Colour illustrations of a Ceylon lovebird in various poses on a perch.

Jan Brandes Lovebirds

Sketch 15: Ambon Parrots

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.

Ambon Parrots colour sketch Jan Brandes

Sketch 16: Stork

Colour nature sketch of a stork-like bird.

Jan Bandes nature sketch of a stork

Sketch 17: Pigeon

Nautre coloured illustration of an ‘amakoea’ pigeon found on the Cape of Good Hope, sitting on a projecting beam.

vintage nature sketch of a pigeon

Sketch 18: Crested Bird

Colour drawing of a crested bird and a sprig of rowan berries.

Jan Brandes crested bird

Sketch 19: East Indian Quail

Translated inscription: “East Indian quail male. The female is completely grey as the male looks from the back”.

vintage sketch of an East Indian Quail

Sketch 20: Crowned Pigeon

A crowned pigeon as a big as a turkey.

Crowned pigeon vintage nature sketch

Vintage Nature Illustrations of Insects

A collection of insect drawings from the sketch book.

Sketch 21: Planthopper, Cricket & Cockroach

A vintage nature sketch of several insects, including a planthopper, common house cricket and a cockroach.

vintage nature illustration of insects including crickets and cockroaches

Sketch 22: Grasshoppers

Full size colour drawing of a green and a black grasshoppers.

Vintage nature sketches of grasshoppers

Sketch 23: Flying Leaf Insect

Translated inscription: “The Flying Leaf drawn after the dried Insect when they are alive they are wholly green.“‘

sketch of flying leaf insect

Sketch 24: Spiders Head

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 nature illustration of spiders anatomy

Sketch 25: Java Butterly

Vintage colour nature butterfly illustrations including a Java butterfly and two Swedish butterflies.

Jan Brandes Java Butterfly

Sketch 26: Javanese Butterflies and Moths

Vintage nature illustrations of Javanese Butterflies

Sketch 27: Mushroom Lava

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.

Nautre sketches of mushroom lava

Sketch 28: Glow worms

Several glowworms drawn through a microscope.

Glow worms

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.

Sketch 29: On Year Old Elephant

A black and white drawing of a one year old elephant and a pencil sketch of its leg and trunk.

Jan Brandes sketch of one year old elephant

Sketch 30: Working Elephant

Colour drawing of an elephant drawn obliquely from behind. Three Sinhalese sit on his back.

Jan Brandes working elephant

Sketch 31: Group of Grey Langur Monkeys

Black and white illustrations of the ‘grey monkey’s with white beards in different poses.

vintage nature illustrations of grey monkey's

Sketch 32: Squirrel

A detailed nature drawing of a squirrel found in Ceylon.

Ceylon Squirrel Jan Brandes

Sketch 33: Mole

Tranlasted inscription: “Capsche Mole, small and large up to 1 foot long, black, brown, and pied.”

Jan Brandes Mole

Sketch 34: Lemur

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.

Jan Brandes Lemur

Sketch 35: Grey Monkey on Leash

Jan Brandes vintage nature illustration of grey monkey on leash

Vintage Illustrations of Lizards

A collection of colourful nature illustrations of lizards featured in Jan Brandes’s skectch book albums.

Sketch 36: Large House Lizard

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.

Jan Brandes Large House lizard

Sketch 37: Land & Water Lizard

“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.”

Land and water lizard Jan Brandes

Sketch 38: Tree Lizard

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.”

Jan Brandes Tree lIzard sketch

Sketch 39: Tree Lizard & House Gecko

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.

Lizard and Gecko JanBrandes

Sketch 40: Monitor Lizard

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.”

Jans Brandes Monitor Lizard

Vintage Illustrations of Sealife

Fish and other sealife drawings from Jan Brandes album.

Sketch 41: Four Fish

Nature drawings of four fish, garfish, flatfish, cuttlefish and flying fish.

Four kinds of fish Jan Brands

Sketch 42: Cuttlefish

Two color drawings and a sketch of octopus-like small shellfish.

Jan Brandes cuttlefish

Sketch 43: Whales

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.

Whales Jan Brandes

Sketch 44: Hammerhead Shark

Black and white drawing of a hammerhead shark seen from two sides.

vintage nature illustration of hammerhead sharks

Sketch 45: Shark and Fishes

Shraks and fishes watercolour sketches

Sketch 46: Jellyfish

Colour natural history drawing of a sea jellyfish when swimming and on land.

Jan Brandes Jellyfish

Other Related Posts

Check out the Louis Renard fish paintings for stunning illustrations of more fish and sea creatures in the Dutch East Indies.

Also, there is a fantastic assortment of botanical and animal drawings in Oliver Goldsmith’s vintage nature posters from his book A History of the Earth and Animated Nature.

If you fancy, you can Buy Me A Coffee Here.

Cara ~ Vintage Style Gal

Tuesday 9th of May 2023

Such beautiful sketches, I even found the insects and lizards fascinating which is not a usual for me. To be able to sketch like this would be a true gift.


Thursday 11th of May 2023

Yes, he definitely had the talent to make everything look beautiful with his sketching.


Friday 28th of April 2023

Such lovely images. Amazing the craftmanship of these old artists. A pity I couldn't access the first 23. Did I do something wrong?


Friday 28th of April 2023

@claire, thanks for fixing the problem. Sorry to moan again, but #3 and #8 are the same images of tropical trees. The one pictured at #3 doesn't actually download, but instead #8. Sorry!


Friday 28th of April 2023

Thanks for the heads up, there was an error with the links on those images. I've fixed them now so they should work.

Diane Matula

Thursday 27th of April 2023

Beautiful illustrations…as always! Thank you so much!


Friday 28th of April 2023

Thank you so much, glad you enjoyed them.


Thursday 27th of April 2023

Sketch 23: Flying Leaf Insect says no post found when you click on the link. đŸ˜•


Friday 28th of April 2023

Thank you, I have now fixed the link so it should work.

Thursday 27th of April 2023

Thanks Claire, you always deliver!


Thursday 27th of April 2023

Thank you, you're welcome I'm glad you enjoy them.