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Anatomical and botanical models

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In the second half of the nineteenth century interest in the anatomical structure of the animal and vegetable world increased markedly. Problems with acquiring and preserving delicate tissues and organs led to the production of models for use in illustrating the workings of the human body. If real bodies were difficult to find for educational purposes the same was true for zoological and botanical specimens, especially those from the more remote parts of the globe.

This increase in demand came at a time when new manufacturing processes enabled them to be used in classrooms for educational purposes. Traditionally wax was the material used to make models but this was particularly vulnerable to changes in temperature causing them to melt or lose their shape.

One solution was to use papier-mâché to make structural models of all kinds of objects found in nature. Modellers found it more robust and it could be built in sections that 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, whose medical background enabled him to make highly accurate models. 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.

As the century progressed the use of a thin plaster layer covering the papier-mâché gave way to plaster models. These newer models lacked the level of detail produced by earlier manufacturers such as Auzoux or Ramee.

Made between 1850 and 1900 these models are examples of early teaching aids available to Australian students of the applied sciences.

Geoff Barker, Assistant Curator, April 2008

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