A special collection housed in the National University of Ireland, Galway Marine Biology and Zoology museum consists of over 100 ‘Blaschka models’. The father-and-son team of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka produced beautiful, intricate glass representations of marine animals, originally developed as educational models. They are now considered to be works of art, with a value that makes them irreplaceable.
The models were acquired in the late 1800s by Professor R.J. Anderson. They consist of beautiful representations of marine life including delicate sea anemones and radiolarians, intricate nudibranchs and many complex models of dissected animals such as that of the cuttlefish Sepia officinalis.
The Blaschkas came from a family of glass craftsmen that originated in 15th century Venice. Initially, the Blaschka family made a living from manufacturing jewellery, scientific apparatus and glass eyes. However, when Leopold moved to Dresden, Germany in 1863, he was brought into contact with the director of the local natural history museum, where his plant models were exhibited. Thus he began a sideline producing natural history models, and was eventually joined by his son Rudolph. In total, the Blaschkas produced intricate glass models for a period spanning over 70 years in the late 19 th and early 20 th century.
The Blaschkas are best known for the collection of glass flowers that they produced for Harvard University, a collection that included approximately 850 life-size plants and 3,000 enlarged flowers. In recent years, however, the Blaschka’s earlier work, glass models of marine life, has attracted more attention. These models were originally based on zoological illustrations of the time, which led to some mistakes in accurate reproduction of specimens. Learning from this, they later based their models on preserved animals, and finally, live animals housed in an aquarium in the Blaschkas’ studio. Reproducing such intricate patterns in glass required a high level of technical skill, and the Blaschkas have been recognised as gifted craftsmen. The scientific accuracy of the models, combined with the beauty of the coloured glass, makes the models very valuable to natural history museums.