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dinsdag 27 mei 2014

The Blaschkas and Haeckel: Shared fascination, parallel development

I published an article on The Blaschkas and Haeckel in Origine : tijdschrift voor kunst, antiek en design [magazine for art, antiques and design] Vol. 22 no. 1 (2014-1)  The editor of the magazine devised a title and a leader to my contribution. Unfortunately, both missed the point and well before the magazine went into print, objections were made, and the desired rectifications were indicated. Regrettably, these were ignored. To read the title “To serve the theory of evolution” truly embarrasses me.
As this is my blog I feel free to express  why the focus on “evolution” saddens me. 
It may be noted that mention of evolution theory appeals to many, and it sells movies and magazines. Why would this be? My suggestion is, that theory of evolution answers the needs that religion answered before: it tells why we are here on earth; it legitimates what we feel and what we do; it takes away guilty feelings about the more primitive layers of our personality. Evolution can be put to use as the force that is responsible for our imperfection. However, being a scientist and an artist, I object to these lines of thought: both responsibility and perfection should always be aimed at. 
I stress again that the equation Blaschka = Evolution cannot be based on my work.

And for that matter, also the equations Blaschka = Haeckel and Blaschka = Art Nouveau / Jugendstil  cannot be derived on my work. Those who do so, are merely projecting their own preoccupations.  
Today is the 192th birthday of  Leopold Blaschka. He deserves to be appreciated  by his work, not by preconceived ideas.

The magazine printed this (in translation):
To serve the theory of evolution

In nineteenth-century Dresden, he father and son Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka had a thriving practice as glassblowers. They specialized in models of marine invertebrates, which then were highly in demand. The Blaschkas relied on the work of Professor Ernst Haeckel of Jena, an early supporter of the theory of evolution. Henri Reiling , artist and biologist determined  how the two glassblowers helped to advance jellyfish research.

And now the reservations:

… To serve the theory of evolution…
In none of the Blaschkas’ trade catalogues is even referred to the theory of evolution. The text of the essay explains that - plausibly - the theory of evolution accelerated the demand for glass models of marine animals for natural history collections. But also was indicated, that amassing natural history collections as a scientific practice  became obsolete because of the theory of evolution. This is in itself interesting and there is no further need for a sweeping statement.
The original title: “The Blaschkas and Haeckel: Shared fascination, parallel development”  thus disappeared completely out of sight. In earlier work, I pointed out  that Professor Haeckel, propagandist for the theory of evolution, is just one of the traceable influences on the composition of the offered trade collection of glass models by Blaschka. However, his is certainly not the only influence. The Blaschkas made ​​glass animals for scientific collections, with which several kinds of science can be illustrated: for example, comtemporary comparative morphology, anatomy and embryology. Even the conviction that by studying nature,  God's work can be understood does not contradict with collecting glass animal models.
This is why I was, back then, very happy with the title for my chapter of the Tübingen catalogue. I used a fragment from the Blaschka letters reading:  ... von unserer aufrichtigen Vorliebe zur Naturwissenschaft geleitet” [... guided by our sincere preference for natural science], which was exactly spot on.

… glassblowers…
The Blaschkas were no glassblowers. A glass blower processes molten glass from a furnace or kiln on a blowpipe. “Glassworker” or possiblyglass artist” are correct indications. Their own choice was ‘Glasmodelleur’ [Glass modeller].

The  Blaschkas relied on the work of Professor Ernst Haeckel from Jena ...
The article only treats the influence of Haeckel. The traceable influence of his scientific illustrations is limited to 18 models / model series out of the 700 numbers  that Blaschkas trade catalog offered. This is exactly mentioned in the text of the article. The Blaschkas relied on a wide range of high quality scientific illustrations.

… helped to advance jellyfish research…
The world turned upside down! Exactly the formless lumps of pickled animals were suitable for research. In turn, the glass models were well suited for teaching and instruction. Glass models cannot help to advance research,  because they can only depict what is already known.

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