With unique artistry, Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka created thousands of glass models in the 19th century. The few remaining examples are now priceless rarities.
NATURE IN GLASS
The fried egg jellyfish lives in the Mediterranean Sea, far from the coast, but always close to the surface of the water. It captures small marine animals with its stinging cells. It is, however, completely harmless to humans.
Jellyfish are composed of 95% water. The thin tissue is difficult to preserve and even more difficult to exhibit. For this reason, between 1860 and 1936 the glassblower Leopold Blaschka and his son Rudolph developed a special technique to make jellyfish and other animals and plants out of glass. Their lifelike models became famous and were sought after by museums and universities all over the world because of their meticulous attention to detail. Unfortunately only a few hundred of the thousands of fragile zoological models are still in existence. In Austria, the University of Vienna and the Observatory at Kremsmünster own notable collections; the NHM collection includes forty of these priceless glass objects.
Leopold Blaschka probably got his inspiration on a trip to the USA, where the phenomenon of marine luminescence fascinated him, as he described in his notes: “We are sitting becalmed on a sailing ship in the Atlantic Ocean. Suddenly a dot of yellow-green light appears close by, growing larger and larger. It seems as if these luminescent beings are trying to lure their charmed observers into a magical kingdom …”
To this day, the skills of the Blaschkas are considered unparalleled. As they did not train any apprentices, their learning was not passed on after their death. The researchers at Harvard University were also unable to reconstruct the production process in detail.