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Biography: Henri Reiling

Henri Reiling

Henri Reiling, honorary curatorial assistant for the zoological collections of the Utrecht Uni­versity Museum in the Netherlands, studied the 19th-century glass models of invertebrate animals made by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. He holds de­grees in biology and education from the Universi­ty of Groningen, and a diploma in painting and design from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Am­sterdam. His research on the Blaschkas combined his zoological expertise with his understanding of design and, in particular, the art of scientific illus­tration.

Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, a father-and-son team of lampworkers from Bohemia, established a successful business manufacturing lifelike, an­atomically accurate models of invertebrates (ani­mals without a backbone), which they sold to col­leges, natural history museums, and private col­lectors. Later, they made botanical models—the famous “glass flowers”—for Harvard University.

The Blaschkas created their models of inverte­brates by copying live animals kept in aquariums, specimens preserved in alcohol, and illustrations in scientific monographs. Reiling inves­tigated changes in the representation of individual species during the period in which the Blaschkas produced these models (1863–1890), in the con­text of changes in the conventions of scientific il­lustration. In his application, Reiling wrote: “I am especially interested in determining the in­fluence of Ernst Haeckel, the Darwinist from Jena University, whose own illustrations and publica­tions offered rather symmetrical sinuous crea­tures. Although the abstracted Haeckelian ap­proach reduced anatomy and morphology to easi­ly identifiable parts for students of science, his style often ignored behavioral traits of the ani­mals. Since the majority of the Blaschkas’ mod­els portrayed the species as living creatures (often in their natural habitat), the lampworkers’ adapta­tion and interpretation of contemporary scientists’ work presents a unique opportunity to view a suc­cessful commercial merger between glass artistry and scientific replicas.”

The major part of Reiling’s research was conducted at The Corning Museum of Glass. The Museum is the temporary custodian of an ex­ceptionally large collection of models acquired by Cornell University in 1885. It also holds, in its Rakow Research Library, a collection of the Blaschkas’ working drawings of marine invertebrates, and some of their correspondence and account books. While he was in the United States, Reiling also studied models of invertebrates in the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology and the Boston Museum of Science, and Blaschka manuscripts in the Botanical Museum at Harvard.