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10087-2 Botanical model, Hyoscyamus niger (Henbane), mixed media, made by Dr Louis Thomas Jerome Auzoux, Paris, France, acquired 1885. Click to enlarge.

Botanical model of Henbane fruit

In the second half of the nineteenth century interest in the anatomical structure of the animal and vegetable world increased markedly. This led to problems acquiring human bodies for educational purposes and zoological and botanical specimens from the more remote parts of the globe. As a result there was an increased demand for models which were structurally correct and robust enough to withstand the classroom environment.

Traditionally wax had been used to make models but wax models were delicate and susceptible to changes in temperature which could cause them to melt or lose their shape. One response was the introduction in the nineteenth century of papier-mâché to make structural models of all kinds of objects found in nature. Modellers found papier-mâché more robust and it enable craftsmen to fashion models in sections which could be removed in layers as if a real dissection were taking place.

A pioneer of this form of modelling was Louis Thomas Jérome Auzoux (1797-1880) a French medical graduate. Around 1820 he visited the workshop of the Ameline who had introduced papier-mâché to the modelling process. Auzoux soon learnt the process and set up a workshop in his home town of Saint Aubin d'Ecrosville in 1827. His medical background enabled him to make highly accurate models while his experiments with papier-mâché resulted in the development of a variety of finishes which incorporated plaster, fabric and glass. The other aspect of Auzoux's success was his application of moulding techniques which allowed him to produce models in larger numbers.

A common feature of many of Auzoux's models is the use of paint on a thin plaster layer which covered the papier-mâché. Studio artists were employed to add the finishing touches using egg tempura which gave a shiny gloss to the finished work. Iron supports were included to reinforce the delicate areas of some models and metal was sometimes used to connect separate parts.

In 1865 Auzoux, introduced a new line of large scale botanical models for educational use. These were made using Auzoux's papier-mâché moulds and painted plaster. Their exaggerated size allowed students to easily examine tiny details on often fragile botanical specimens. Another advantage was the fact that real specimens preserved in alcohol tended to lose their colour while Auzoux's painted models enabled students to get an idea of their colour in real life. Dr. Auzoux's models were acclaimed throughout Europe and this model was purchased in 1885 from the Auzoux workshop some five years after Auzoux had died.

Although Auzoux used moulds to make multiple copies of his models they were still extremely labour intensive and as a result were never produced in large numbers. Today these models are highly sought after by collectors and museums not only for their place in the history of the medical and natural sciences but also as works of art in their own right. This model is part of the Powerhouse Museum's original collection and illustrates the importance placed on educational models during the museum's formative years.

Grob, B.W.J., 'The anatomical models of Louis Auzoux', in 'A descriptive catalogue', Colophon, Museum Boerhaave Communication 305, Leiden, Germany, 2004
Scholtz, Gerhard (2005), Better than the real thing? Models - The Third Dimension of Science.
Acta Zoologica 86 (4), 303-305, doi: 10.1111/ j.1463-6395.2005.00193.x
Chen, Joseph C. T. M.D., Ph.D.; Amar, Arun P. M.D.; Levy, Michael L. M.D.; Apuzzo, Michael L. J. M.D., 'The Development of Anatomic Art and Sciences: The Ceroplastica Anatomic Models of La Specola', Neurosurgery. 45(4):883, October 1999

Geoff Barker, March, 2007


Object No.


Object Statement

Botanical model, Hyoscyamus niger (Henbane), mixed media, made by Dr Louis Thomas Jerome Auzoux, Paris, France, acquired 1885

Physical Description

Botanical model of the fruit of Henbane made of painted papier-mache and mounted on a black square wooden base. The model consists of a thick, green, curved stem with a pair of closely encased leaves and an enlarged, bisected fruit. The outside of the fruit is dark red in colour with white vertical lines while the other side shows the seeds and internal veins, which are mottled red, cream and brown in colour.



430 mm


190 mm


118 mm



This model was made no later than 1885



This model was purchased from Dr Auzoux 08/10/1885. See Annual Report, purchases 1885, 'Models in papier mache of the following familiar plants' "Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger)". Purchased from catalogue and price lists similar to REC11513/1 Acquired 2005/213/1, Dr Auzoux, France, 1920. See description and illustration page 51: "Jusquiame. Solanees - Fruit se decomposant en calice et capsule. Au moyan de coupes practiquees dans son epaisseur, on peut voir la disposition dea feuilles carpellaires, des grains et la calotte au moyen de laquelle s'opere dehisscence".

This model was purchased from Dr Auzoux's workshop in 1885 as part of a larger collection of 'models in papier mache of ... familiar plants' the year before the museum had purchased models of silk worm moths, berries and 'ten models illustrating the natural order of plants'. All of these models were articulated so that they could be taken apart to demonstrate the 'internal economy' of the plant or flower. A newspaper account survives of one of these models -- the silkworm -- being demonstrated to the Royal Society by the Museum's curator, which became a regular event on Wednesday afternoons. However, overcrowding at the Agricultural Hall was blamed for their cessation and the 1893 building did not make any special provision for demonstrations by providing, for example, a teaching or demonstration room.

The fruit of Henbane can be a toxis plant in low doses. Its name originates from the Anglo-Saxon 'hennbana' ("killer of hens") and has the more common effects on humans of hallucinations, dilated pupils, restlessness and flushed skin. Less common symptoms such as tachycardia, convulsions, vomiting, hypertension, hyperpyrexia and ataxia have also all been noted.

Cite this Object


Botanical model of Henbane fruit 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 15 April 2021, <https://ma.as/348218>


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