Now that Easter is over, I thought that looking into some real eggs would make a nice change from garishly-wrapped ovoid confectionary. Fortunately the Royal Society’s archives are a treasure trove of historical images so it didn’t take me long to unearth some fascinating examples.

The Austrian microscopist and illustrator Franz Bauer produced a series of images of the development of chicken embryos, which were printed in the Philosophical Transactions in 1822 accompanying Everard Home’s paper “Observations on the changes the egg undergoes during incubation in the common fowl“. Even if you don’t feel like reading the text I’d encourage you to scroll to the last few pages of the article, as the black-and-white engravings are quite exquisite. Even more beautiful (in my opinion, at least) are Bauer’s original drawings. These are all available on our new picture database, but this one is a particular favourite of mine:

Bauer drawings for the Philosophical Transactions, ref. PT_73_9_38

The work of Marcello Malpighi is briefly referred to at the beginning of Home’s paper. Malpighi conducted pioneering work in microscopic anatomy, building on research carried out by William Harvey. Amongst many other things, Malpighi also studied the development of chicken embryos, and the Royal Society’s collection contains both manuscript and printed copies of his “Dissertatio epistolica de formatione pulli in ovo” of 1673. Also a skilled artist, this is one of the drawings Malpighi prepared for the book:

Malpighi's drawing, ref. MS_103_47

As with the Bauer illustrations, more of Malpighi’s drawings can be seen online, and you can read more about some of Malpighi’s work in this blog post. If you’re interested to learn more about the development of chicken embryos, this fantastic web resource from the University of New South Wales is just the place to look.

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