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Sea Creatures in Glass AUGUST 2016

The Blaschka Marine Animals at Harvard

This week we are celebrating the release of Sea Creatures in Glass: The Blaschka Marine Animals at Harvard; a book as beautiful and unusual as its subject. Published to accompany a new permanent display, breathtaking new photography captures 60 of the Harvard Museum of Contemporary Zoology’s most exquisite glass marine models together in a catalogue for the first time.

Here you’ll find bright corals and anemones, delicate jellyfish and squid, and bizarre soft-bodied sea creatures meticulously recreated in glass – so life-like that Museum staff have been asked how they have managed to preserve their specimens for so long. 

But why

Father and son artists Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka began creating their extraordinary marine creatures in 1865, which were purchased for display and then for educational purposes. The pair achieved a remarkable level of realism through studying living organisms both in the workshop and in the field, and developing extremely sophisticated techniques that few, if any, other glass artists have achieved.

It was this attention to detail that led universities and museums throughout the world to commission Blaschka invertebrate models as teaching models for students of natural science and marine life. This was a time when the rise of evolutionary theory had sparked new interest in the development of living beings, their behaviour and their environments, and these models represented possibly the easiest and best way to study such a wide array of aquatic species up close. It is easy for us to forget, in this age of wildlife documentaries, underwater photography and public aquariums, just how remote and mysterious ocean life had been for scholars of the time. 

Glass may seem like a strange medium for such a purpose, but when one sees the array of shapes, colours and textures that the Blaschkas created, and how the translucence of the glass captures the fragility and delicacy of the subjects, it is impossible to imagine any other medium attaining such a degree of realism. Undoubtedly also the artistry involved has played a large part in the collection’s enduring popularity – models are often used as visual aids for teaching, but these are unique in their status as works of art as well as scientific objects.

Full of stunning photography, this elegant book will be a must for all those interested in marine biology, the delicate art of glass craftsmanship, the history of science, and the quiet beauty of the natural world.