Henri's berichten over zijn recente activiteiten

Henri's reports on his recent activities

dinsdag 16 juni 2020

The Secret of the Glass Flowers

  June 17, 1857, Rudolf Blaschka was born.
Today we commemorate his life and achievements as a scientific artist.
It is his 163th birthday. 


When the Dutch crown princess and her husband visited Harvard in June 1941, newspapers wrote that both expressed great interest in the unique collection of the Glass Flowers of Harvard. These were made by father and son Blaschka, who dedicated their whole life to the creation of these flowers and who took the secret with them in the grave, when Rudolf died.

The existence of a never revealed secret is a popular myth. Also in the preface to Mary Lee Ware’s “How Were the Glass Flowers made” the question: “Did the secret of the glass flowers die with the makers?” is raised again, with the intention to make an end to it. It was stressed that no such secret processes were applied. It was repeated again that every technique used was known to contemporary glass workers. Also Rudolf, when asked, insisted that in his art is no room for secrecy or egoism.

Both Leopold and Rudolf mastered the art of glass working at a high level. To become such a master it takes a long period of apprenticeship, training and guidance. During that time one grows into being an artisan by assimilating techniques, skills and knowledge. These become part of one's personality. This insight came to me again, when we visited Vittorio Costantini in his workshop in Venice in November 2009. The master glass worker was sitting at his workbench, close to the torch, rods, tubes and samples of glass around him, tools within reach - everything had its place, all was connected organically, it seemed to be a single organism. We saw his hands guide the glass into shapes that he had in mind. His gestures looked easy and effortless.

You may visit the “Musée du Compagnonnage” in Tours, France which stores a wide range of artisanal masterpieces. There one will be impressed and surprised by discovering what complex wonders can emanate from human hands. Mastering highly trained professional skills is not a secret - this is achieved by endurance and dedication.

There is something lost: it is our understanding of the nature of artisanal work. The secret of the Glass Flowers is, that they belong to a bygone era.

How Were the Glass Flowers Made? by Mary Lee Ware. Botanical Museum Leaflets, Harvard University. Vol 19, No. 6 (January 9, 1961) pp 125-136. Publ. Cambridge MA, Harvard University Herbaria. [vid. p. 125]

Were The Blaschkas Rich?

Harvard's unique glass flowers are famous - they attract  the beau monde as well as tourists. Fame is, rightly or wrongly, often associated with money and wealth. Thus, when visiting  forgotten glass animal collections in Europe, I was often asked: "Those Blaschkas, were they rich?" One wonders how rich an artisan can become by only working.
The contract that Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka made with George Lincoln Goodale, director of the Botanical Museum of Harvard University, is arguably one of the most beautiful contracts of the 19th century – as it is written down by Moch and Virga. This contract enabled father and son Blaschka to devote their lives to the Glass Flowers of Harvard.
Leopold could also  buy a large house in 1887, as he wrote to Henry Augustus Ward on August 31, 1887: [translated] “This year I bought a lovely estate, a villa in Hosterwitz near Dresden, in the most beautiful part of the Dresden area, where I plan to move my apartment and studio in March next year…”

A steady income because of the contract, an agreeable house with a studio: yes, they were well to do.
But in no way they were so wealthy that they could live as comfortably rentiers. On the contrary: their lives revolved around the production of the glass botanical models. Let me recall the report of Mary Lee Ware (sponsor of the Glass Flowers) who visited Rudolf Blaschka and his wife in Hosterwitz. On the occasion of her visit in 1928 she wrote that she disapproved of the then 71 years old  Rudolf working in the evenings, sometimes till midnight. From this observation, I am inclined to conclude that he was used working for many hours a day. Even in old age he depended on his labour. No, he was not rich.

(By the way: It was also assumed that I myself had means, because of the Blaschka-Harvard connection. Several museum people commented on the fact that I stayed in a cheap & clean hotel instead of a fancy one, when I came over to examine a forgotten collection of Blaschka Animals. I too was and am not rich. But it was the 1995 Rakow Grant, a sum of Glass Research Money, that  was really helpful.)

"Les plus beaux contrats du siècle". Cheryl Moch & Vincent Virga. transl. from the American by: Marc Sich.
P 245-248: “Un musée des oeuvres de Dieu”: les fleurs de verre de Harvard . Publ. Paris: First, 1988

How Were the Glass Flowers Made? Mary Lee Ware. Botanical Museum Leaflets, Harvard University. Vol 19, No. 6 (January 9, 1961) pp 125-136. Publ. Cambridge MA, Harvard University Herbaria. [vid. p. 129]

vrijdag 12 juni 2020

Today In History - Princely Visit to the Glass Flowers on June 12, 1941

On June 12, 1941 the Dutch crown princess Juliana and her husband prince Bernhard visited Boston, Harvard and the Glass Flowers.

Contemporary newspapers from the Dutch East Indies (the former colony, now Indonesia), covered the event.These reports were based on a press release from ANETA, a press agency located in Batavia (now Jakarta).
These newspapers were digitised in the Delpher*) project.
In Europe, NAZI-Germany occupied the Netherlands since May 1940, whereupon princess Juliana had taken refuge in Canada by mid-1940. Meanwhile, in 1941 in the Asian colony Dutch authority was still in force.

The Princely Couple In Massachusetts

Brilliant reception

Boston, Massachusetts, June 12 (ANETA). The Princely Couple arrived at the station today at 10:30 and was greeted by Prof. J.A.C. Fagginger Auer, President of the Netherland Club of New England, Brigade-General Edgar C. Erikhon as representative of the Governor of Massachusetts and Ms and Mr T. Jefferson Collidge, former Deputy Minister of Finance, in whose house in Brookline the Prince and Princess will stay.
Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard were apparently unaffected by the long night journey, and looked excellent.
Dr and Mrs James B. Conant invited the Dutch members of Harvard Faculty as guests at the luncheon to honour the Princely Couple.
Later, the Episcopal Theological School held a reception in honour of the Princess and the Prince. Today, the Princely Couple will dine with Massachusetts governor at Saltonstall.

Guests of Harvard University

Cambridge, Massachusetts, June 12 (ANETA). Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard had lunch today as guests of dr. and Mrs. James Conant , Rector of Harvard University.
Conant invited the Dutch professors from Harvard University and their spouses, among others : Bart Bok, J.P. den Hartog, B.H.M. Bleeke and J.A.C. Fagginger Auer.
After having visited the interesting points of Harvard University, the Princely Couple had tea in the episcopal theological seminary as guests of the very venerable Argus Thin, dean of the seminary.
Present were several bishops of Massachusetts, as well as members of the board of trustees and faculty.
The Princess wore a flat sailor hat, made of white straw, decorated with flowers, the brim of which had been folded down from behind. She wore a black and white plaid dress, printed with orange roses and a black “overskirt”, while the Prince wore a simple grey suit.
Both of them expressed great interest in the unique collection of glass flowers of the Bohemians Rudolf and Leopold Blaschka, father and son, who dedicated their whole life to the creation of these flowers and who took the secret with them in the grave; when the son died some years ago.
The Boston papers stressed the fact that "our completely democratic atmosphere” was essential for the visit which aim is, to emphasise the friendship between the American democracy and the Dutch state.

(to be continued on Rudolf Blaschka's birthday: June 17)

 *) De Koninklijke Bibliotheek [Dutch National Royal Library] initiated the Delpher Project.
As a result, over 100 million pages from Dutch newspapers, books and magazines were made digitally available.
Among these, the newspapers that resulted in this blogpost: 

- De Indische Courant, June 13, 1941
- Bataviaansch Nieuwblad, June 13, 1941
- Soerabaijas Handelsblad, June 15, 1941

zaterdag 30 mei 2020

Catalogue of Marine Glass Models – A review in "Der Thiergarten", Vol. 1, 1864

Translation of a review in "Der Thiergarten", Vol. 1

Artificial actinia.

On Reichenbach's order for the Dresden Zoological Museum Mr. Leopold Blaschka in Dresden has artificially  reproduced beautiful actinias or sea anemones (from what? is not said) and now offers such for those admirers who want to see these animals in water, for the aquaria. Sea water is of course not necessary. They are, as he says, "immersed in ordinary pure well water and remain imperishable and unchangeable in their beauty."In the [journal] Leopoldina, B. gives a long list of the species he has prepared so far. These preparations (even without being immersed in water) are certainly very valuable for museums and admirers for the correct determination of the species, and the prices are cheap enough to make the purchase of the complete series possible. Such preparations are also valuable for grammar schools and secondary schools; they give quite a  good idea of this important class of animals, the polyps, which are known to distort their shape beyond recognition in alcohol. Only Mr. Blaschka's idea to give these artificial products the appearance of life by placing them in water is, frankly speaking, contrary to our feelings.


The author, presumably David Friedrich Weinland, is not very happy with Leopold's creations. He grumpily remarks that the used materials are not specified  - the models are reproduced "from what? is not said"

Further, the concept of an aquarium populated with "artificial products" does not appeal to Weinland. 
Frankly, I am sympathetic to his point. The presentation of sea anemones in an aquarium was a contemporay British concept, where at that time the "Aquarium Craze" was in full swing. This was not a Natural History presentation as such, but a fashion statement in the domain of interior decoration. The cultural angle dominates.

vrijdag 29 mei 2020

1863 Catalogue of Marine Glass Models - Postscript by Ludwig Reichenbach


After confirming of what Mr. Blaschka has announced here, I would like to explain the following.
Mr. Blaschka arrived here in July and both the exotic orchids artificially made from glass-like materials that he exhibited here in a pavilion in the botanical garden, and the objects exhibited under our eyes, showed us that we saw before us a virtuoso of rare talent in the art of modelling. All experts unanimously agreed that his artefacts were excellently true to nature in design and colouring. The modest man also had the experience of having seen many things on his travels and so his knowledgeable look soon understood the new so easily, that he surprised us with his achievements.
But soon the question arose of how this man could be employed in a way that is useful, that is, beneficial for science. This question easily coincided with the longstanding wish of the K. naturhistorischen Museum [Imperial Natural History Museum]: to have some very perishable  delicate sea products, which become completely unimpressive when stored, represented by lifelike models. However, everyone can daily see for themselves of how well the experiment with the Sea Anemones succeeded, by looking at our rich collection in a glance at the Natural History Museum, or through placing an order and after receiving a collection, this can be demonstrated at home. We also hope to report on the scope of these experiments later on.
The demand has already increased and it is worth mentioning that the first three shipments went to Löbau for schools, but the largest orders were made for Petersburg and Dorpat. The stock will soon be depleted, but with the new copies to be produced all the time, the manufacturer will be able to satisfy the orders in the order in which they are received.

Dresden, October 16, 1863. L. Reichenbach.

donderdag 28 mei 2020

1863 Catalogue of Marine Glass Models - the list of models

 Price list of the Sea Anemones [Aktinien], now available

[Price in Thaler/Neugroschen]

Thlr   /   Ngr
Actinia chiococca Cocks
             concentrica Risso  
           diaphana Rapp
           mesembrianthemum Ellis
             rubra Brugu.
Actinoloba Dianthus (Ell.) Gosse
Adamsia palliata Johnston
(Act. carcinopoda Otto) mit Krebs  [with Crab]
Aiptasia Couchii Gosse
Anemonia cinerea Contarini
Anthea Cereus (Ellis) Johnston
                        maxima veneta 7 1/2
Aureliana Augusta Gosse
                heterocera Gosse
Balanophyllia regia Gosse
Bolocera eques Gosse
               Tuediae (Johnst.) Gosse
(Bunodes Ballii (Cocks) Gosse
Bunodes coronata Gosse
              gemmacea (Ellis) Gosse 2 St. [2 Pc.]
               thalia Gosse  2 St. [2 Pc.]
Capnea sanguinea Johnst.
Caryophyllea Smithii Stokes
Cerianthus Lloydii Gosse
Corynactus viridis Allman
Gregoria fenestrata Gosse
Halcacampa chrysanthellum Gosse 2 St. [2 Pc.]
[correct spelling:  Halcampa chrysanthellum]
-                     microps Gosse
Hormathia margaritae Gosse
Ilyanthus Mitchellii Gosse
Lophophelia prolifera (L.) M. Edw.
Milnea callimorpha Rchb.
[AKA  Edwardsia (Milnea) callimorpha Gosse ]
             carnea Rchb.
[AKA  Edwardsia (Milnea) carnea Gosse ]
(NB. Der Name Edwardsia, den Gosse beiden Arten giebt, ist schon längst von Salisbury in der Botanik vergeben!)
[The name Edwardsia, which Gosse assigns to both species, has long since been claimed by Salisbury in botany !]
Paracyanthus pteropus Gosse
                       taxilianus Gosse
-                        thulensis Gosse
Peachia hastata Gosse
                       triphylla Gosse
                       undata Gosse
Phellia Brodricii Gosse
                      gausapata Gosse
                       muricocincta Gosse
                       picta Gosse  
Phyllangia americana G. *)
Sagartia bellis (Ellis) Gosse
            chrysosplenium Gosse
             coccinea (Müll) Gosse
             ichthyostoma Gosse
             miniata Gosse
            nivea Gosse
            ornata (Holdsworth) Gosse
            pallida (Holdsw.) Gosse 2 St. [2 Pc.]
           parasitica (Couch.) Gosse
            pura (Alder) Gosse
            rosea Gosse  3 St. [3 Pc.]
           sphyrodeta Gosse  2 St. [2 Pc.]
-              5
           troglodytes (Johnst.) Gosse
            venusta Gosse
            viduata (Müll.) Gosse  
Sphenotrochus Macandrewanus M. Edw.
-                          Wrightii Gosse
Stomphia Churchiae Gosse
Tealia coriacea (Lesson.) Rchb.  2 St. [2 Pc.]
         crassicornis (Müll.) Gosse 2 St. [2 Pc.]
         digitata (Müll.) Gosse
Zoanthus Alderi Gosse
               Couchii Johnst.
-               sulcatus Gosse
(NB. Die Autoren in Parenthese haben die bei gesetzten Arten als Actinia beschrieben)
[NB. The authors in Parenthesis have described the according species as Actinia]

The selection will soon be expanded in a new catalogue, highly recommended to friends of nature and science. Letters and funds are requested free of charge.

Dresden, October 15, 1863, Leopold Blaschka, kleine Schiessgasse No. 2.


Chris Meechan, formerly employed at the National Museum Cardiff, analysed the early sets of sea anemone models that survive in Great Britain. He listed 68 species. The list of models presented here is almost identical: 67 species, so only one less (i.e. Sagartia viduata var.).
Instead of  the Phyllangia the correct species
Hoplangia was included in Chris' list [see note *) hereunder].

When browsing the 1863 catalogue, Chris' attention was drawn to  Adamsia palliata with Crab [mit Krebs]. It may be assumed, that this anemone was modeled on a representation of the hermit crab,  with which it lives in symbiosis. Hitherto, we are not aware of early Adamsia models with this feature - but later on the Adamsia was modelled on the shell of a Whelk - in which the hermit crab houses.

 *)  The genus Phyllangia is mentioned in Gosse 1860 (pg 337), as a synonym for Hoplangia.
A quick internet search learns that  Phyllangia americana is a species of the Western Central Atlantic (Belize and Mexico) so it cannot be connected to Gosse 1860 at all. Let us assume that Leopold was misinformed here, and that later on he corrected the wrong nomenclature.

In the next blogpost the Postscript by Ludwig Reichenbach - as published in the catalogue