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Darwin's Corals

A New Model of Evolution and the Tradition of Natural History

To this day Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory of the "survival of the fittest" has been visualized with the universal model of a tree of life. But early on in Darwin’s thinking the coral provided a fascinating alternative to the tree as a depiction of the evolution of the species.

Horst Bredekamp shows how Darwin, a coral enthusiast and collector, found in it a more adequate illustration of evolution through natural selection: It grows anarchically in all directions and no longer upholds mankind as the "crown of creation." Using this example Darwin is proving himself to be both a destroyer and consummator of traditional natural philosophy. Since antiquity the coral had been a symbol of nature as a whole.

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Audience: Academics (history of art, visual sciences, philosophy, cultural studies)