Henri Reiling, honorary curatorial assistant for the zoological collections of the Utrecht University Museum in the Netherlands, studied the 19th-century glass models of invertebrate animals made by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. He holds degrees in biology and education from the University of Groningen, and a diploma in painting and design from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. His research on the Blaschkas combined his zoological expertise with his understanding of design and, in particular, the art of scientific illustration.
Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, a father-and-son team of lampworkers from Bohemia, established a successful business manufacturing lifelike, anatomically accurate models of invertebrates (animals without a backbone), which they sold to colleges, natural history museums, and private collectors. Later, they made botanical models—the famous “glass flowers”—for Harvard University.
The Blaschkas created their models of invertebrates by copying live animals kept in aquariums, specimens preserved in alcohol, and illustrations in scientific monographs. Mr. Reiling investigated changes in the representation of individual species during the period in which the Blaschkas produced these models (1863–1890), in the context of changes in the conventions of scientific illustration. In his application, Mr. Reiling wrote: “I am especially interested in determining the influence of Ernst Haeckel, the Darwinist from Jena University, whose own illustrations and publications offered rather symmetrical sinuous creatures. Although the abstracted Haeckelian approach reduced anatomy and morphology to easily identifiable parts for students of science, his style often ignored behavioral traits of the animals. Since the majority of the Blaschkas’ models portrayed the species as living creatures (often in their natural habitat), the lampworkers’ adaptation and interpretation of contemporary scientists’ work presents a unique opportunity to view a successful commercial merger between glass artistry and scientific replicas.”
The major part of Mr. Reiling’s research was conducted at The Corning Museum of Glass. The Museum is the temporary custodian of an exceptionally large collection of models acquired by Cornell University in 1885. It also holds, in its Rakow Library, a collection of the Blaschkas’ working drawings of marine invertebrates, and some of their correspondence and account books. While he was in the United States, Mr. Reiling also studied models of invertebrates in the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology and the Boston Museum of Science, and Blaschka manuscripts in the Botanical Museum at Harvard.