Botanical model, Epillet du ble, wheat grain, mixed media, Dr Auzoux, Paris, France, purchased 1883
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 as it enabled 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 1883 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.
Geoff Barker, Assistant Curator, March 2007
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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