Joseph Bettannier

French, 1817–after 1877

Hugi’s hut on a medial moraine of the lower Aar glacier from Louis Agassiz, Studies on Glaciers (Etudes sur les glaciers), 1840
19 ¼ x 13 1/8 in. (48.9 x 33.3 cm)
Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering and Technology, Kansas City, Missouri

Joseph Bettannier’s illustrations for Louis Agassiz’s seminal book on glaciers were appreciated for their scientific and aesthetic value. His images interpreted, in great detail, the dynamic movement of ice as it moved and sculpted alpine mountains.

In his print, the artist documents the confluence of two great glaciers and the the rocky shelter of Franz-Joseph Hugi (Swiss, 1796–1855), a mountaineer and professor of natural history. Hugi was among the first to study the flow of mountain glaciers, and his ideas influenced Louis Agassiz during their rambles together through the Alps.

Hugi’s stone dwelling, originally constructed in 1830 farther up the valley, was moved 4,600 ft (1402 m) downhill by the action of the glacier. Agassiz measured the hut after ten-years time and used it as further evidence that glaciers advanced and retreated.

Studies of Glaciers moved Ice Age theory to the forefront of scientific debate. Until this time, many still believed that Earth was 6,000 years old and created in six days. Proponents of the Ice Age pointed to a more ancient reading of the planet, which was now considered dynamic and subject to changes over large expanses of time.