Object Lessons: An exhibition made for looking at objects made for knowing

26 May 2017

Words & Photos by Annette Rotz

George Loudon’s private collection of unusual, often bizarre 19th century life science teaching objects are now on display at the UK’s largest university museum, Manchester Museum.

The prolific London-based art collector has been obsessed with the hunt since age eleven, starting with carpentry tools, on to political prints, Chinese earthenware, contemporary art, and now these incredible Victorian scientific models and illustrations. We had the pleasure of visiting the extraordinary show last week.

Aside from being a weird and wonderful collection of glass, velvet, and wax things, what’s so interesting about these objects is how they’ve changed over time. Over a hundred years ago, they were used to teach students how plants, animals, and bodies function. Now we can simply look at them, and appreciate them for their aesthetic beauty.

Object Lessons

Object Lessons at the Museum of Manchester

Object Lessons

Installation view: Object Lessons

George Loudon's Wunderkammer

On display are the highly-acclaimed Blaschka glass models, created by German glassworkers Leopold Blaschka and his son Rudolf. These incredibly detailed models of soft-bodied animals allowed 19th century scientists to record these fascinating creatures at a time when underwater photography was not yet available.

One of the parts I enjoyed most was The Lanterium, and not just because you can take selfies in there(!) This corner of the room is lit up with old university lecture slides – pyramids, microscopic cells, reptiles, dinosaurs, and such. They are made of photographic film mounted to glass, some hand-coloured.

When asked his main motivation behind collecting, Loudon said simply it was in the blood. This exhibit is for the curious… and those who like looking at incredibly wonderful objects.

Object Lessons

Flowers made of papier-mâché and wood. Most come apart to show internal reproductive parts.

Object Lessons

Top shelf: Used to teach about crystal and mineral molecules, these objects are beautiful architectural models in their own right. Middle shelf: Models showing magnified cells, and how they develop over time. Bottom shelf: Detail from a Japanese teaching scroll, invaluable for teaching life science in the 19th century.

Object Lessons

Detail from a Japanese teaching scroll, invaluable for teaching life science in the 19th century.

Object Lessons

The centrepiece of the exhibition is a bell jar table of papier-mâché plant models, glass jellyfish, and velvet mushrooms.

Object Lessons

The father-son team made thousands of glass models over the course of their career.

Object Lessons

Incredibly realistic mushroom models made of velvet

Object Lessons

Popup human anatomy book, featuring Edwardian moustache

Object Lessons

Annette in the "Wunderkammer"

Object Lessons

Installation view, The Lanterium, Object Lessons at Manchester Museum

Object Lessons at the Manchester Museum
19 May - 20 August 2017
Free Entry

Annette Rotz is London-based art director, writer, artist and photographer. Follow Annette on Instagram / Tumblr or visit her website

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