Natural history models made from glass

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In the 19th century, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka created thousands of incredible scientifically-accurate models of plants, flowers, and marine animals from glass. Their work is in collections all over the world with a large collection of the botanical sculptures held at the Harvard Botanical Museum, as featured in the book The Glass Flowers at Harvard.

This weekend is the Dublin Blaschka Congress celebrating the couple's marvelous work with a series of events and presentations. The conference coincides with the opening of a large exhibition of Blaschka models at the National Museum of Ireland (Natural History) running until the end of the year. (Seen here, "Argonauta Argo" and "Physalia Arethusa" from the National Museum & Gallery, Cardiff.) From an online exhibition of their work titled "The Glass Aquarium" at the London Design Museum's site:

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At a time when the public was entranced by the bizarre plants unearthed by explorers and by the splendidly surreal creatures discovered beneath the sea (since the invention of the submarine and deep sea diving kit in the mid-1800s) the Blaschkas offered a glimpse into those exotic worlds...

Leopold and Rudolf began the process of creating their replicas by making highly detailed drawings: many of which are now archived in the Rakow Library at the Corning Museum of Glass in the US. Their techniques and equipment were fairly basic. Each exquisitely intricate model was made by fusing or gluing clear and coloured pieces of glass using a combination of glass blowing and lamp working. Tentacles and gills were attatched on fine copper wires and, where necessary, paper and wax were used too.

The Blaschkas were equally meticulous in the way their approach to decoration. The translucence of jellyfish was replicated by using finely speckled layers of pigment usually on the underside of the glass. Thicker coats of paint, sometimes mixed with powdered glass, were used to depict thicker skin or textured surfaces. Although they both worked on every apsect of their replicas, Leopold tended to prefer working with the larger pieces of glass and to concentrate on assemby; while Rudolf enjoyed the fine details of intricate work and did more of the painting and decoration...

Even in their own era, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka resisted conventional definitions and described themselves as “natural history artisans”. As for their work, it was hailed at the time as: “an artistic marvel in the field of science and a scientific marvel in the field of art.”

Link to Blaschka Congress,
Link to more images at the Design Museum London (via Kircher Society)