The determination of fishes is a piece of art

January 16th, 2020
Painting of fish market

Learning about the biodiversity of fishes is a fine piece of art. And now literally, thanks to a crowd-sourcing project where you can identify fish by analyzing old paintings and drawings. Thanks to the Naturalis Biodiversity Center and the Leiden University Center for the Arts in Society (LUCAS), everyone can now fish for fish species in famous illustrations.

Volg onze verhalen

Bij Naturalis zijn we dag en nacht bezig om de collectie aan te vullen als rijksmuseum, academisch onderzoeksinstituut en erfgoedinstelling.


into the past

When identifying fish, you quickly think of researchers who look at stuffed fish species. The 'A new history of fishes' project, financed by The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), proves that it can be done in a completely different way.

The project uses paintings and drawings from the Rijksmuseum as a source of information. Fish were often depicted by artists in the 1500s to 1850s. Fish were featured in illustrations of market scenes and still lifes. These historical images offer us a glimpse into the past. The paintings tell us which fish were caught, traded or eaten. In combination with biodiversity data for this period, researchers can study the relationship between fish consumption, biodiversity and history highlights.

The project is of great importance, since fish are important not only as a food source, but also because of their economic and ecological value in biodiversity. "We can learn more about biodiversity and the cultural history of fish by looking at the use of fish in the past".

If you are seeking for more information see this page in Dutch, or continue to: