Between the 15th and 18th centuries, European nations seeking to expand their empires sent missions to every corner of the globe, gathering information and establishing colonies. The voyages during the so-called "Age of Exploration" were primarily money-making ventures, but they also sought to provide scientific information about areas new to Europeans.

Each voyage included a court-appointed artist to record exploration findings. Responsible for cataloging every detail of the destination, the artists brought back depictions of the land, the people and their customs, and flora and fauna native to the area. The pieces established a visual testimony to accompany written accounts created by expedition leaders.

The Picturing the World collection illustrates the scientific history of the age of European empire through prints of flora, fauna, and maps.