Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka

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Rudolf (standing), Caroline, and Leopold Blaschka in the garden of their Dresden home
Blaschka model of sea anemones

Leopold Blaschka (27 May 1822 – 3 July 1895) and his son Rudolf Blaschka (17 June 1857 –1 May 1939) were Dresden, Germany glass artists native to the Bohemian (Czech)–German borderland, known for the production of biological models such as the Glass Flowers.

Early life of Leopold[edit]

Leopold Blaschke was born in Český Dub, Bohemia, to a family which originated from Josefuv Dul (Antoniwald) in the Iser or Izera Mountains, a region known for processing glass, metals and gems.[1] The family had also spent time in the glassblowing industry of Venice.[2]

Leopold displayed artistic skills as a child, and was apprenticed to a goldsmith and gemcutter. He then joined the family business, which produced glass ornaments and glass eyes.[2] He developed a technique which he termed "glass-spinning", which permitted the construction of highly precise and detailed works in glass. He also Latinised his family name to "Blaschka", and began to focus the business on the manufacture of glass eyes.[1]

In 1853, Leopold was suffering from ill health and was prescribed a sea voyage. He travelled to the United States and back, using the time at sea to study and draw sea animals, primarily invertebrates.[1]

Early models[edit]

Blaschka model of jellyfish

Leopold's son Rudolf was born in 1857, and the family moved to Dresden to give their child better educational opportunities.[1] Leopold began making glass models of exotic flowers which he had seen depicted in books. Prince Camille de Rohan heard about his work, and commissioned 100 models of orchids in his private collection.[2] In 1863,[1] the Staatliches Museum für Tierkunde Dresden commissioned Leopold to produce twelve models of sea anemones.[2] While these designs were based on drawings in books, Leopold was soon able to use his earlier drawings to produce highly detailed models of other species,[1] and his reputation quickly spread.[2]

Leopold began selling models of marine invertebrates to museums, aquaria, universities and other educational bodies who wanted visual aids but were unable to satisfactorily preserve such animals.[1][2] These represented a great improvement on previous methods of presenting such creatures: drawings, pressing, photographs and papier-mâché or wax models.[1] He gradually extended his range of work by studying marine animals from the North Sea, Baltic Sea and Mediterranean,[1] and later constructed an aquarium at his house, in order to keep live specimens from which to model.[2]

Contact with Harvard[edit]

Part of the Harvard Glass Flowers collection

In about 1880, Rudolf began assisting his father with the models. In that year, they produced 131 models of sea slugs, jellyfish, and other marine invertebrates for the Boston Society of Natural History Museum (now the Museum of Science). These models were seen by Professor George Lincoln Goodale, who was in the process of setting up the Harvard Botanical Museum. In 1886 the Blaschkas were approached by Goodale, who had come to Dresden for the sole purpose of finding them, with a request to make a series of glass botanical models for Harvard; some reports claim that Goodale saw a few glass orchids in the room where they met, surviving from the work two decades earlier.[3] Leopold was unwilling as his current business of selling glass marine invertebrates was hugely successful but, eventually, the famed glass artists agreed to send test-models to the U.S. and, although badly damaged by U.S. Customs,[4] but Goodale nonetheless appreciated the fragmentary craftwork and showed them widely – convinced that Blaschka glass art was a more than worthy educational investment. His reasons for wanting the models was simple: At that time, Harvard was the global center of botanical study. As such, Goodale wanted the best, but the only used method was showcasing pressed and carefully labeled specimens — a methodology that offered a twofold problem: being pressed, the specimens were two-dimensional and tended to lose their color. Hence they were hardly the ideal teaching tools.[5][6] However, having already seen Harvard's recently procured glass marine invertebrates and, Professor Goodale realized that glass flowers would solve his problem[6] – as glass, they were three-dimensional and would retain their color.

Mary Lee Ware – patron sponsor of the Glass Flowers

Investments require funds, and to cover the expensive enterprise Goodale approached his former student Mary Lee Ware and her mother Elizabeth C. Ware; they were independently wealthy and already liberal benefactors of Harvard's botanical department.[7] Mary convinced her mother to agree to underwrite the consignment of the uncannily lifelike models that enchanted them both.[3] In 1887 the Blaschkas contracted to spend half-time producing the models for Harvard.[8] They continued to spend their remaining time making marine invertebrate models. New arrangements were made to send the models directly to Harvard, where museum staff could open them safely, observed by Customs staff.[3] In 1890 the Blaschkas signed an exclusive ten-year contract with Harvard to make glass flowers for 8,800 marks per year.[8] They modeled a great range of plants (finally, 164 taxonomic families) and plant parts (flowers, leaves, fruits, roots). Some were shown during pollination by insects, others diseased in various ways.[1]

Production of the Glass Flowers[edit]

Early in the making of the Glass Flowers, Mary Lee Ware engaged in correspondence with Professor Goodale regarding the making of the collection, one of which contained a remark of Leopold's regarding the false rumor that secret methods were used in the making of the Glass Flowers: "Many people think that we have some secret apparatus by which we can squeeze glass suddenly into these forms, but it is not so. We have tact. My son Rudolf has more than I have, because he is my son, and tact increases in every generation. The only way to become a glass modeler of skill, I have often said to people, is to get a good great-grandfather who loved glass; then he is to have a son with like tastes; he is to be your grandfather. He in turn will have a son who must, as your father, be passionately fond of glass. You, as his son, can then try your hand, and it is your own fault if you do not succeed. But, if you do not have such ancestors, it is not your fault. My grandfather was the most widely known glassworker in Bohemia.

The Blaschkas used a mixture of clear and coloured glass, sometimes supported with wire, to produce their models.[8] Many pieces were painted, this work being entirely given to Rudolf.[3] In order to represent plants which were not native to the Dresden area, the two studied the exotic plant collections at Pillnitz Palace[8] and the Dresden Botanical Garden, and also grew some from seed sent from the United States.[8] In 1892, Rudolf was sent on a trip to the Caribbean and the U.S. to study additional plants, making extensive drawings and notes.[3]

Rudolf made a second trip to the U.S. in 1895. While he was overseas, Leopold died.[3] Rudolf continued to work alone.[11] By the early twentieth century, he found that he was unable to buy glass of suitably high quality, and so started making his own.[8]

Rudolf continued making models for Harvard until 1938. By then aged 80, old and weary, he announced that he would retire.[12] Neither he nor his father had taken on an apprentice, and Rudolf left no successor.[1] For Harvard alone, Leopold and Rudolf made approximately 4,400 models, 780 showing species at life-size, with others showing magnified details; under 75% are, as of May 21 2016, on display at the HMNH, (the exhibit itself dedicated to Dr. Charles Eliot Ware, the father of Mary Ware and husband of Elizabeth Ware); the old exhibit contained 3000 models but this number was reduced for renovation purposes. [8] Unlike the marine invertebrates – "a profitable global mail-order business"[5] – the Glass Flowers were commissioned solely for and are unique to Harvard.

Harvard's renovation exhibit[edit]

Front view of the temporary display

For a several month period beginning in 2015 and set to end in the early summer of 2016, the Harvard Museum of Natural History (HMNH) set up a "temporary display highlighting twenty-seven of the most popular plant models as well as some items from the Blaschka archives"[13] while the main Glass Flowers exhibit is under renovation. This exhibit was unique because it was the first recorded time that the Glass Flowers have been jointly exhibited with the Blaschkas' earlier models of marine invertebrates in a major and equal display.[14] The renovation exhibit was dismantled when, on May 21 2016, the main Glass Flowers exhibit reopened. The models of marine invertebrates remain, however and as before, as a permanent exhibit.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Förderverein "Naturwissenschaftliche Glaskunst Blaschka-Haus e. V". (The Promotional Association "Scientific Glass Art – Blaschka-Haus e. V.")". Urania-dresden.de. Archived from the original on 2014-11-29. Retrieved 2015-06-10. 
      Short title: "Blaschka – English version". Translation by Peter Silbernagl. Lead sentence: "In September 2000, an association was founded in Dresden-Hosterwitz with the aim to establish a museum-type memorial for the work of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka and to treasure the memory of those two glass-artists."
      Earliest English-language title: The Association "Naturwissenschaftliche Glaskunst – Blaschka-Haus e.V.". Johanna Dühning, Chairman of the Association; translation by Benjamin Pentzold (archived 2002-09-10).
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Leopold + Rudolf Blaschka {...} The Glass Aquarium {...}". Design Museum (designmuseum.org). Retrieved 2015-06-10. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "The Fragile Beauty of Harvard's Glass Flowers". The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles. Journalofantiques.com. February 2004. Retrieved 2015-06-10. 
      Excerpt with permission of HMNH from a print source, The Glass Flowers at Harvard, 1992 (at Amazon.com, link provided by HMNH).
  4. ^ "The Glass Flowers". Corning Museum of Glass (cmog.org). 18 October 2011. Retrieved 2015-06-10. 
  5. ^ a b "The Glass Flowers". Harvard Museum of Natural History (HMNH.harvard.edu). Retrieved 2015-06-10. 
  6. ^ a b B. L. Robinson (Autumn 1924). "Biographical Memoir George Lincoln Goodale 1839–1923" (PDF). Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences: Volume XXI. Nasonline.org. Retrieved 2015-06-10. 
  7. ^ Franklin Baldwin Wiley (1897), Flowers That Never Fade, Boston: Bradlee Whidden.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Patricia A. Emison (2005), Growing With the Grain:Dynamic Families Shaping History from Ancient Times to the Present, Lady Illyria Press, ISBN 9780976557203, p. 184.
  9. ^ The Fragile Beauty of Harvard’s Glass Flowers - http://www.journalofantiques.com/Feb04/featurefeb04.htm
  10. ^ Issue 6 Horticulture Spring 2002, Great Vitreous Tact - http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/6/vitreoustact.php
  11. ^ "The Blaschka Flower Models", Popular Science, March 1897, p. 668.
  12. ^ "Bohemian maker's retirement completes Harvard glass-flower collection", Life magazine, 28 February 1938, p. 24.
  13. ^ Glass Flowers Renovation Project Frequently Asked Questions (Harvard University Herbaria and Botany Libraries)
  14. ^ Glass Flowers Renovation Project Frequently Asked Questions (Harvard University Herbaria and Botany Libraries)

External links[edit]