The German biologist Ernst Haeckel was fascinated by medusae, the umbrella-shaped animals commonly called jellyfish.
For Haeckel, whose imagination was shaped in the Romantic era, medusae expressed the exuberant yet fragile beauty of Nature. And in their ethereal forms he glimpsed a reflection of his great love Anna Sethe, who died tragically at the age of twenty-nine.
Haeckel had been engaged to Anna for four years when, in 1862, he became associate professor of zoology at the University of Jena.
The job gave the adoring pair the economic security they needed to finally marry. In the same year, Haeckel published a book on radiolaria (microscopic plankton) which he furnished with stunning illustrations.
In Jena, the newlyweds lived together in bliss for eighteen months. Then, on the day he was supposed to celebrate his thirtieth birthday and receive an award for his radiolaria book, Anna died suddenly, probably of a burst appendix
”Haeckel travelled to the Mediterranean town of Nice to attempt a recovery from his suicidal malaise.
One day he took a walk and saw a medusa in a rock pool: “I enjoyed several happy hours watching the play of her tentacles which hang like blond hair-ornaments from the rim of the delicate umbrella-cap and which with the softest movement would roll up into thick short spirals.”
He made a sketch and named the species Mitrocoma Annae [Anna’s headband].