This scientific illustration by Ludwig Becker was commissioned by Sir Frederick McCoy, Director of Museum Victoria as part of his zoological research. It forms part of the much larger Prodromus Collection. Many of the original illustrations in the collection informed the production of the two volume work The Prodromus of the Zoology of Victoria which was Museum Victoria's first major publication from 1878. Before the popularisation of photography, artists were essential to science. They provided an empirical eye and the capacity to accurately record images of animals and plants, while emphasising their unique and diagnostic features. At that end McCoy commissioned work from many artists for his publication. One of the best known of these was Ludwig Becker. A highly skilled miniaturist, Becker entered into the minutiae of the scenes and animals he depicted. His illustrations were often accompanied by annotations in an attractive and expansive script that utilised visually charged language. Frederick McCoy encountered Becker early in his career, among Melbourne's small circle of scientific gentlemen. Becker's illustrated papers for the Proceedings of the Philosophical Institute must have made a positive impression, as McCoy considered the potential contribution Becker might make to his own more ambitious project to illustrate the zoology of Victoria. In 1858 McCoy engaged Becker to create lithographs at a rate of £10 per plate. While Becker seemed to have been continually aggravated by the Professor's tardy payments, McCoy in contrast appears to have held Becker in high regard, referring to him posthumously as 'the late and clever observer and artist'.
The Prodromus project followed a popular formula of the time, seeking to identify and classify the natural wonders of the 'new world'. Such publications reached a peak in popularity with the work of John Gould in England and the earlier work of James Audobon in America. In Australia, many professional and amateur publications, including Aldine's systematic studies of the colonies and Louise Anne Meredith's Bush Friends From Tasmania, contributed to the genre. McCoy died without completing his systematic study, but even at the time few believed that 'any of us will live to witness the completion of the work, if the entire Fauna of Victoria is to be illustrated.' The publication of the Prodromus was an enormous undertaking, utilising the work of numerous artists, collectors, lithographers and publishers, over an extended period of time. Although costly in both financial and professional terms, it was met with critical acclaim and wide popular support. Financial battles were waged and lost by McCoy, but ultimately the Prodromus has stood the test of time and remains one of Museum Victoria's finest publications.

Description of Content

Silvery Dory, Cyttus australis, by Ludwig Becker, commissioned as part of Frederick McCoy's zoological research.

More Information

  • Collection Names

    Prodromus of the Zoology of Victoria

  • Collecting Areas

    Scientific Art & Observation

  • Artist

    Ludwig Becker, 24 Jul 1858

  • Medium

    Pencil, watercolour and indian ink on paper

  • Drawing Number


  • State


  • Primary Inscriptions

    Fish from Western Port 2/3 n.s / Juli 24.1858. / caudal, dorsal, anal, pectoral / and ventral fins transpa/rent colorless, the rays pink. / The ventrals black near the / end; the 8 pink colored / rays on the back / are united by reddish brown membranes. The / pectoral fins are very light / pink colored. The snout / and the part above the eyes, / pink with a mixture of orange. / The back and belly near / the margin is of a dirty yellowish brown, / changing into yellow. The rest of the body / silvery, with blueish yellowish & greenish hues. / Eyes opalising, with black pupils. The gills (a) opalising.

  • Secondary Inscriptions

    Ludwig Becker

  • Classification

    Scientific artwork, Illustration, Paper

  • Taxon Name

    Cyttus australis

  • Author and date of publication

    (Richardson, 1843)

  • Preferred Common name

    Silver Dory

  • Phylum


  • Subphylum


  • Superclass


  • Class


  • Order


  • Suborder


  • Family


  • Genus


  • Species Name


  • Category

    Natural Sciences

  • Discipline

    Scientific Artwork

  • Type of item