I should love these exquisite glass creations purely for their own sakes, but I also love them because they make me think of Angels and Insects, the A. S. Byatt-based film about the Victorians and their glorious obsessions.
Just opened at the Corning Museum of Glass, Botanical Wonders: The Glass Flowers of Harvard showcases an amazing collection of glass flowers made by father-and-son glassmakers Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka. How beautiful are these flowers? My colleagues at work have been coveting the folder containing the press release; it is imprinted with one of the drawings for the glass objects. How realistic are they? Well, pretty close—worth a visit to see for yourself.
These objects come from a time when botany was actually a craze. The Victorians loved natural history, and eagerly sought preserved specimens of exotic plants and animals, often keeping large private collections—which then became the foundations of public collections. These artifacts were collected not so much to show, but to study—and to teach from.
As two of the greatest glassmakers who ever lived, the Blaschkas were commissioned in 1886 to make the glass flowers as teaching models for the Botanical Museum of Harvard. They created hundreds of glass versions of North American plants, tropical plants, flowers being pollinated, fruits with fungal diseases, and other scenes from the botanical world.
Seventeen of the glass flowers will be on view in Corning; they will be joined by twenty-five glass models of sea creatures (also made by the Blaschkas) creating probably one of the most beautiful exhibitions of glass Corning has ever organized—and that’s saying something. Take for example, the Succisa with Butterfly, which shows two glass butterfly carrying pollen from one violet-colored flower to another. I have seen—and attempted to photograph (with ill results)—such a tableau in my garden many times. I never would have imagined it could be depicted so realistically in glass.
Leopold (1822-1895) and Rudolf (1857-1939) Blaschka started out in Bohemia (located in what is now the Czech Republic), long established as one of the glassmaking capitals of the world, but moved to Dresden in 1863, where these objects were created. Over the course of their careers, they supplied museums and universities everywhere with realistic models of plants and animals. For forty-six years, everything they made went to Harvard, including nearly 850 models and 4,300 enlarged details. These were not objects meant to be worshipped purely for their aesthetic value in a museum setting; they were meant to be a teaching collection for Harvard students. Cornell University also has an impressive collection of Blaschka objects—570 models of invertebrates—all of which are stored at the Corning Museum of Glass, including the twenty-five to be shown. The conservation of the Blaschka works is complex, because glue, paint, and metal armatures were used in their creation as well as lamp-worked glass.
In addition to the glass flowers, fruits, and sea creatures, there are sixty drawings (studies for the models). I have a gorgeous book of those drawings that I’d like to give to a Rant commenter. I also have tickets for the exhibition (which runs through November) for those who would be able to visit it.
Just come up with some reasonably interesting facts or observations about Victorians and their obsessions with natural history, or the Blaschkas. The best comment gets the first book; the next gets a different Blaschka book and then there are the tickets for those that can use them I’ll choose and announce the winners around 9 p.m. EST.
Many thanks to Yvette at Corning for helping me out with this.
OK, I am happy to send Layanee and Michelle Derviss the books. I will be contacting them. Thanks for reading the post and commenting! Tickets are going to Jim and Joanne so far, and maybe County Clerk. I am sure I can get more.