Video: Glass masterpieces of the 19th century jeweler that served as a scientific tool for schools and universities
2023 Author: Richard Flannagan | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-11-26 05:58
Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka are perhaps best known for creating a collection of glass flowers for Harvard. But together they left their mark, creating thousands of models of marine invertebrates that are still of great value to most modern scientists today.
In the 1860s, when Czech glassblower Leopold Blaska began sculpting models of underwater creatures, the industrial revolution, population growth and climate change had not yet wreaked havoc on marine biodiversity. For three decades, using methods that still confuse experts, Leopold and his son Rudolph have made more than ten thousand glass models of plants and inhabitants of the underwater kingdom, executed in the smallest detail. Some of them were created specifically for educational purposes at Harvard University.
The two belonged to a long dynasty of glass blowers: the Blaschka family had been working in the area since the fifteenth century. Leopold himself started out making glass jewelry as part of a family business, but later his interests changed. His interest in creating glassware inspired by the shapes of the natural world is said to have begun on an ocean voyage to the United States, during which his ship stopped in the Azen Islands, where he saw many jellyfish in the water.
This inspired the man to become interested in marine life, and he began to create glass models of creatures and plants found in the sea. His son Rudolph later worked with him on these models. Prior to joining Harvard, they also supplied many museums and universities around the world with glass models for educational purposes. For example, in Scotland, the National Museum in Edinburgh currently owns nearly a hundred glass models. Some of Blaschk's works also exist in Glasgow, the University of Glasgow Hunter Museum and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery.
The origins of the popularity of glass models of the Blaschk family can be traced back to the nineteenth century, when such models were of particular value to science. During this period, it was customary in museums to include models of objects, not just surviving versions of the things themselves. For educational purposes, some viewed models as just as valuable as real things, and the demand for them grew. In the 18th century, the Enlightenment and the French Revolution destroyed the old social and religious institutions.
In their place, science and education emerged as new shining fires. While the concept of an unchanging Kingdom of God has been challenged by evolution, the natural world has been recreated in taxidermy and dioramas in museums around the world. Zoos, botanical gardens, aquariums and museums have been busy creating their own miniature artificial universes.
However, until the end of the 19th century, it was not customary to use glass models for teaching botany: the plants were either dried or models were created using papier-mâché or wax.
But Blaschkoy's choice of glass as the material for his models proved to be ideal for reproducing the forms of sea creatures, including corals, jellyfish, octopuses, squids, starfish, sea cucumbers and cephalopods.
Leopold's work on glass models of marine life was also partly a response to the need to find a way to display marine invertebrates for study purposes. Invertebrates tended to decay once they were no longer in their natural habitat and could not survive out of water, and attempts to keep the dead were unsuccessful as they quickly decay, even if preserved in alcohol. In addition, such models could show the colors of the creatures, as they tended to quickly disappear as soon as the real ones appeared on the surface.
The Blaski Glassworks were important because they predated the era of underwater photography, so their models were the best opportunity to see images of underwater plants and creatures. Such figurines were eagerly bought by institutes and schools, as well as avid collectors who want to get this or that creature in their collections.
One of the largest stands with glass samples (about six hundred pieces) belongs to Cornell University in the USA, where until recently it was almost forgotten, hidden in a warehouse in disrepair.
But in the early nineties of the last century, as a young professor, Dr. Drew Harwell, having discovered the "time capsule" of marine biology of the XIX century, began to catalog the collection.
In recent years, researchers have begun comparing Leopold's marine work with current marine life to see if any of the species once created by the duo did not exist.
Their underwater world is a unique opportunity to look into the bowels of Mother Nature herself, which existed more than a dozen years ago.
And to continue the topic, read about how a French jeweler Lucien Gaillard managed to unravel the secrets of Japanese masters and create truly amazing bone crests, brooches and other jewelry.
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