Discovering the Fine Wonders of the Blaschka Father & Son Team and Their Glass Wonder Works.

On one of my many wanderings around Berlin, I entered the area near the CHARITE HOSPITAL in Mitte.  Now here is where things get confusing.  I have no idea if this is part of the CHARITE HOSPITAL or the HUMBOLDT UNIVERSITY as the border and boundaries of these top Berlin institutions are all merging.  A huge confusion that I won’t go into as I will be here for 100 pages of a scene from LOST.  This area is part of the original old campus, full of ancient buildings where one can find the non stop building of a huge modern edifice that will house a whole new science structure.  Modern, imperious, and overwhelming compared to the 1800s splendor of old Berlin, I have only despair for this city and the decisions that the city planners are making when it comes to architecture, new buildings and the rate and pace of all this.   Berlin is magic when it comes to finding little secrets behind a door that leads you to a courtyard and then into an Alice in Wonderland garden.  You can always find something hidden in “the back” of everything.  Just look behind the building by going into a courtyard and then wander.   That is slowly disappearing with the arrival of these smug new and elite structures that seem to extinguish everything around them by saying “Look at me:  the new modern world of power and immortality.”  What you see is what you get, downright vulgarity.  The structures will be part of a new SCIENCE facility, stem cell research, etc.

The opposite of this is the old campus ground of THE HUMBOLDT UNIVERSITY in Mitte with it’s vast green wafts of better air quality and tiny blue tit birds, and idyllic sweep of lushness and calm.  Think 1890 Berlin, yellowed brick and huge sweeps of  lawn perfect for croquet or picnics a la 1890!  A sweet grandeur as opposed to the devious modern that promises the effluvia of life lasting longer and ultimately no death.  But this is a rant for another time but if you saw the contradiction between the new building works and this wonderland hidden behind it, I would chose the wonderland ANY DAY!

Upon entering an ancient building which seemed to house the Veterinarian/Animal Department, I wander about surrounded by massive glass shelves of specimens in liquid.  Various fish, shellfish, sea creatives.  Cabinet after cabinet with ancient varieties collected in glass container after container on the main floor and then walking upstairs even more!

The entire building exudes in the vibe of the “1880s idyllic picnic” I was basking in outside, except zoology collections abound in dark chocolate wood and massive glass cabinets everywhere!  I felt I was in Victorian heaven!

As I wandered around a bit more, I found some mysterious fine glass pieces in a cabinet up the stairs hidden away with a few signs giving me a name or two. I knew I had come upon some incredible glass work that I had never heard of before.   I was viewing the master works of some very highly skilled and incredibly gifted craftsman and artist.

Rudolf and Leopold Blaschka based in Dresden between 1865 and 1890 made glass models of invertebrate animals as educational aids.

Between 1884 and 1887 the the Zoological Institute aquired 141 models or series with 237 items in all.

The forms seemed to belong to the paramecium or amoeba family of one celled bacterium structures was my thinking.  They were so intricate and spun like candy floss sweetness, the color and the delicacy like ice.  Glass spun like thread formulating these dazzling capricious incarnations of ephemeral living phenomenon.  Obscure yet vivid in their dazzle, there was such a sensitivity to them.  It was as if the makers understood how these structures existed as if maybe they were actually once these entities themselves!

So I began to research who these two men were.

Some of this information came from Cornell Collection of Blaschka Glass Works:

The Blaschkas came from a small town outside of Dresden, now Czech Republic.  Leopold’s father was called a “flameworker” designing costume jewelry out of metal and flameworked glass.  From my research it is also alleged that his family stemmed originated from a family of glassblowers that went way back to 15th century Venice.

The catalog of its displays at London’s Great Exhibition in 1851 gives an indication of the range of the wares:

BLASCHKA & SONS, Liebenau, Bohemia— Manufacturers.
Paste, for artificial precious stones, beads, glass buttons, lustre pendants, articles in pinchbeck, &c.1

After Leopold’s wife and father died all within a short time period, he found himself in 1853 on a journey by ship to the Azores where Leopold began to collect and draw jellyfish and marine invertebrates.   He was highly taken in by these miraculous creatures and their glasslike intrigue.

From Leopold’s description of what he saw (in a translation kindly provided by Henri Reiling) conveys his sense of wonder—a sense that he later expressed in his glass models. Here, he describes phosphorescent creatures observed after dark:

It is a beautiful night in May. Hopeful, we look out over the darkness of the sea, which is as smooth as a mirror; there emerges all around in various places a flashlike bundle of light beams, as if it is surrounded by thousands of sparks, that form true bundles of fire and of other bright lighting spots, and the seemingly mirrored stars. There emerges close before us a small spot in a sharp greenish light, which becomes ever larger and larger and finally becomes a bright shining sunlike figure.  (Quote from David Whitehouse / Cornell) 

Despite his love of marine invertebrates, the first glass models that Leopold made, following his return to Europe, were of plants, not animals. After the death of his wife, he had sought consolation in collecting, studying, and painting plants, and in the late 1850s, he began to create models of plants for his own amusement. These models came to the attention of Prince Camille de Rohan, an aristocratic horticulturist who had established a world-famous garden on one of his estates, at Sychrov Castle, not far from Aicha. Between 1860 and 1862, the prince exhibited about 100 models of orchids and other exotic plants, which he displayed on two artificial tree trunks in his palace in Prague.

In a letter of 1896 that is preserved at Harvard University, Rudolf Blaschka provided an important insight into his father’s work, supplementing the information contained in the catalog of the Great Exhibition (see above). When Leopold entered the business, it consisted of making costume jewelry assembled from glass and metal components, metal attachments for the lusters in chandeliers, and other fancy goods. At an unknown date, the business expanded to include flameworked laboratory equipment. In or just after 1864, Leopold was commissioned to produce brooches and other jewelry decorated with flameworked flowers: forget-me-nots, violets, and roses. He also produced flameworked glass eyes in various colors and sizes. Some of these were for people who had lost an eye, and others were for taxidermists who supplied the growing demands of natural history museums for animals whose skins were preserved and mounted for display. Leopold’s production of jewelry ceased about 1873, but the manufacture of glass eyes and scientific apparatus continued until the 1880s.

The prince also gave Leopold an introduction to Prof. Ludwig Reichenbach, director of both the botanical garden and the natural history museum in Dresden. Subsequently, Leopold’s models were exhibited in that city’s botanical garden, and in a museum in Liège, Belgium, where they were destroyed in a fire.

Leopold now moved his family from Aicha to Dresden, and, in 1863, Reichenbach commissioned him to make models of sea anemones to be displayed in the natural history museum. These glass anemones attracted the attention of other museum directors, and Reichenbach predicted that Leopold had a promising future as a maker of scientific models.

Reichenbach’s prediction proved to be correct. Indeed, such was Leopold’s success that, at the age of 41, he turned his back on the other business and devoted most of his energy to the making of models of invertebrate animals.

This was at a time when the world was entranced by the natural wonders of the Earth. Museums were filled with taxidermy of beasts from Africa and other exotic locations. However, depicting the creatures of the deep was more problematic, as the marine creatures would dry up if left out of water and lose their shape in formaldehyde jars. Most replicas were stiff wax depictions—until Blaschka introduced his creations to the market.

The Blaschkas’ output was prodigious. The South Kensington Museum in London (now the Natural History Museum), for example, acquired 784 models in 1876; Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, purchased some 600 models; the Museum of Natural History in Dublin acquired 530 models between 1878 and 1886; the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University bought about 350 models; and the Boston Museum of Science has 311 models.

In 1886, George Lincoln Goodale, professor of botany at Harvard University, traveled to Germany to persuade Leopold to abandon his successful career of making models of marine invertebrates and to concentrate instead on producing models of plants. The result was the unique collection of botanical models, known collectively as the Glass Flowers of Harvard. Many of the invertebrate models are spectacular, but the best of the botanical models are breathtaking.

The flowers look also astounding,  but I am more fascinated by the marine life.  No one can deny, the jellyfish magnificence.

The collection at THE HUMBOLDT UNIVERSITY consists of 26 items, which I was grateful to view some of them through their glass cabinet.  40 models still live in the NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM and the rest was said to have been destroyed during WW2.  I will try to contact the Berlin Natural HIstory Museum and also Vienna is supposed to have this Jellyfish which I just discovered!  Plus, just learned about the incredible collection in London Natural History Museum which means another pilgrimage.

I wish I knew more about them.  As something tells me there is more to their story.  But this is usually the way it works.  One finds a treasure, and then so little of the life of the treasure-maker can be found.  One can only dream and create worlds of what it must have been like to be alive, to make such delicate objects of preciousness!  The sheer beauty, but always to be used for learning, thinking, educating!  All for wisdom thinking!  But simultaneously:  SUPERB STUNNING STRUCTURES OF GORGEOUSNESS!!

Just another treasure in the middle of no-where in Berlin.  I could be wrong, so forgive this statement, but these pieces seemed not really cared for.  Ok, they were there.  But no big deal around them, i.e. in signage?  But I can tell you this:  no one wanted me to talk about these objects within the building.  Again, secrets!  Sssh.  Silence is golden.

Please excuse these very bad images, but I was trying to NOT take the photo for the sake of the people in charge at the school.  The head of the dept, didn’t want me to take any photos whatsoever.  Even though the front door of the school is open to the public and these beautiful, delicate glass objects are locked away in a glass case, it again felt like one huge secret and I wasn’t really allowed to even look!

ps:  Red Alert!  Red Alert Everyone!  Just found this out while searching for more info:  Over the last few years photographer Guido Mocafico has set out to document many of the most impressive models created by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka that are currently stored in museums and universities around the world. Using his own unique style to illuminate each object against a stark black background, Mocafico manages to capture the minute details of each artwork, bringing to life sculptures that are now more than a century old.

Here are some of his images, hope ok to use Senor Mocafico:

pss:  As I write this post, I am learning about more “sighting” of “found” Blaschka objects in basements of various universities in America and other places.  Very exciting.  I will do another post on this.  But from what I have learned, the Blaschka father and son team worked on more than 700 items that got sent to various “museums, educational facilities, classrooms and laboratories across Europe and America”.

More from University of Wisconsin who I am making contact with:  The Blaschkas were commissioned by museums to create glass models that would capture the exotic species’ fanciful shapes and vivid colors. Other models were sold for exhibit or instruction at universities or even as elegant knickknacks for private homes.

“These were highly in demand. The living animals were often so minuscule and delicate, [models were] an ideal way to demonstrate what they looked like,” says Holahan.

Working from illustrations or live or preserved specimens, the Blaschka craftsmen meticulously reproduced the spikes, polyps, and suckers of their aquatic subjects. They preserved an impressive degree of scientific accuracy, even modeling the tiniest creatures at 600- to 1,000-times actual size to show fine detail, Holahan says.

The quest continues to learn more and find more.  May the glass force be with you!

Again, finding more curiosity and knowledge of these men.  Check out the amazing information found at NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM in London.

Guys?  These are made of glass!!!  Helllooo!!!  GLASS!!

Just astounding no?

Various photos taken from Cornell University which houses a huge collection to Harvard and London Natural History Museum all a powerful collection of Blaschka glass.  Hope ok guys to use!!  Thank you millions!

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