9 January 2014

A Sea of Glass

© logo Glasmuseum Leerdam (top image)

Last week I visited an exhibition titled Een Zee van Glas, Dutch for A Sea of Glass. This exhibition in the Nationaal Glasmuseum Leerdam (the Netherlands) is inspired by the works of Ernst Haeckel.

Haeckel lived in Germany from 1834 tot 1919. You could call him a 'homo universalis': he was a biologist, naturalist, philosopher, physician, professor and artist. For the exhibition and this post the latter is the most important.
He published 42 books (nearly 13,000 pages) and a lot of beautiful illustrations of animals and especially sea creatures. His book 'Kunstformen der Natur' (German for Art forms of Nature) was and is a source of inspiration for artists.

Illustrations by Haeckel transformed into curtains at the exhibition.

In this post I show work of Haeckel, glass art at the exhibition and photo's of species linked to the exhibition.

This is a beautiful illustration by Ernst Haeckel of sea anemones. Sea anemones were and still are very difficult to preserve. Colours will almost vanish when a sea anemone is preserved in alcohol or formaldehyde. And sea anemones contract in preservative, so you have to sedate them first. But that is not as easy as it sounds. Nowadays photo's are an excellent way of showing colour and shape, but at the time Haeckel made this illustration (published between 1899 and 1904) nature photography was in its infancy, let alone colour photography! Illustrations like these were the only means of recording soft bodied and often very colourful sea creatures for scientific purposes and for presenting them to the general public.

illustration Wikipedia

The next photo's - the numbers refer to the numbers in the illustration above - show some specimen for comparison. Some illustrated sea anemones resemble 'the real thing', some not. The shape and proportion of a sea anemone are variable, due to the great elasticity of its tissues and localized muscle contraction. Maybe some of the sea anemones were in a bad condition at the time Haeckel made the illustration.

1. Cereus pedunculatus, daisy anemone (NL: zonneroosje), in vitro

7. Sagartia troglodytes, mud sagartia (NL: slibanemoon), Tetjes, The Netherlands


This is one of the beautiful glass sculptures by Rudolf Blaschka displayed at A Sea of Glass.
It is supposed to be Sagartia troglodytes, mud sagartia (NL: slibanemoon). See the photo above and Haeckel's illustration (7). The sculpture resembles the species reasonably well. Especially if you observe this anemone when the water has just receded. In situ the column is not visible, because it lives buried in sand or mud.

8. Anemonia sulcata, snakelocks anemone (NL: wasroos), Pointe de Trévignon, Bretagne, France

12. Corynactis viridis, jewel anemone (NL: juweelanemoon), Kerpape, Bretagne, France

15. Metridium dianthus, Zoetersbout, The Netherlands

As said, the appearance of sea anemones can be very diverse. Compare both photo's of the plumose anemone, Metridium dianthus (NL: zeeanjelier) with Haeckel's illustration. He must have been inspired by a plumose anemone like the one below with its cauliflower appearance.

15. Metridium dianthus, Burghsluis, The Netherlands

Another glass figure of Rudolf Blaschka is supposed to be Devonshire cup-coral, Caryophyllia smithii (NL: eierdopkoraal). Nice work but as a real-life reproduction it leaves much to be desired. See the photo below and the illustration of Gosse.


Caryophyllia smithii, Ballyhenry (wreck of the Inner Lees - Empire Tana), Northern Ireland

This and the next illustration are by Philip Henry Gosse (1810-1888). Gosse is preceding Haeckel with illustrations of sea anemones in his book 'Actinologia Britannica: A History of the British Sea-anemones and Corals'.
They are not part of the exhibition but I want to show these two illustrations because - speaking of real-life reproduction - they outrank Haeckel's illustration of sea anemones. Compare Caryophyllia smithii in the illustration above (upper right) with the photo above and Sagartia troglodytes in the illustration below (anemone with the orange tentacles) with the photo of this species and in Haeckel's illustration above.


Haeckel's illustration of jellyfish. The problems recording jellyfish do not differ from recording sea anemones. Again: illustrations like Haeckel's were the only means of recording these animals.

At the bottom right Haeckel illustrated Chrysaora hysoscella, the compass jellyfish (NL: kompaskwal).

Chrysaora hysoscella, Saint John's Point, Ireland

Chrysaora hysoscella, Wemeldinge, The Netherlands

 Aurelia aurita, Den Osse, The Netherlands

The moon jellyfish, Aurelia aurita (NL: oorkwal) is not illustrated by Haeckel. But speaking of animals of glass…

Aurelia aurita, Bergsche Diepsluis - Oesterdam, The Netherlands

It is not difficult to perceive a jellyfish in this glass sculpture and especially in its reflection and shadow. Designed in 1934 by the world famous (Dutch) glass designer Copier.

These glass sculptures reveal the extraordinary craftsmanship of Rudolf Blaschka. They show the larval stages of the moon jellyfish, Aurelia aurita (NL: oorkwal), you have just seen in adult form.


Rudolf Blaschka (1857-1939) and his father Rudolf (1822-1895) were German glass artist. They made glass models of flowers and sea creatures, like jellyfish, sea anemones (see above) and nudibranchs (see below).

Aurelia aurita, Dreischor, The Netherlands

Moon jellyfish in polyp stage.


The Glasmuseum has asked a few artists to design glass sculptures, drawing inspiration from Haeckel's work.

Eibert Draisme, the artist who designed the glass sculptures above and below, drawed his inspiration unmistakably from jellyfish, hydroids and comb jellyfish, like you will see in the photo's below. 

Glass sculpture by Eibert Draisme

Anthomedusae species with a funny twist.

Glass sculpture by Eibert Draisme

The beauty of glass enhanced by its shadow and reflection.


These animals illustrated by Haeckel look like jellyfish, but they are hydroids. They belong to the Anthomedusae, an order of the Hydrozoa.

The illustration at upper right (showing the animal from below) and lower left (showing the internal organs from the side) is Neoturris pileata; see the photo below.

Neoturris pileata, Saint John's Point, Ireland

Aequorea species, Saint John's Point, Ireland

Another hydroid, the water jellyfish, Aequorea species (NL: lampekapje) looks as if it is made of glass.

Mnemiopsis leidyi, Meerzicht, The Netherlands.

Also looking like a jellyfish, but the sea walnut, Mnemiopsis leidyi (NL: Amerikaanse langlob-ribkwal), is a representative of the Ctenophora, an entirely different phylum.

Haeckel's illustrations decorating the floor.

Very nice drawings by Haeckel of some Cephalopods. The drawing at the bottom left is Octopus vulgaris, the common octopus (NL: gewone achtarm).


Inspired by Haeckel's drawing, Christie van der Haak designed a shoal of octopus.



Another glass sculpture of an octopus by Vittorio Costantini.

Octopus vulgaris, Scopello, Sicily, Italy

This common octopus does not look as smooth as the glass sculptures. But it can change its appearance in seconds. Whereas its nephew the common cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis, acts like a chameleon, the octopus is the shapeshifter.


Octopus vulgaris, The A Frame, South Africa

Sepioteuthis sepioidea, Eighteenth Palm, Bonaire

Looking at the sculptures of Christie van der Haak, I would have chosen squid (NL: pijlinktvissen) for my design. They are the most 'glassy looking' Cephalopods. For instance the species in Haeckel's illustration at the top middle and these Sepioteuthis sepioidea, Caribbean reef squid.

Sepioteuthis sepioidea, Caribbean reef squid, Eighteenth Palm, Bonaire


Glass sculpture of the common cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis (NL: gewone zeekat) by Leopold or Rudolf Blaschka.

Sepia officinalis, Bergsche Diepsluis - Oesterdam, The Netherlands

Sepia officinalis, Porthkerris, United Kingdom

An illustration of Nudibranchs by Haeckel. They are as soft and as colourfull as sea anemones, so a perfect reason for Haeckel to make illustrations. In the middle: Dendronotus frondosus, top right: Facelina auriculata (see photo's below).


At A Sea of Glass.

Facelina auriculata (NL: slanke ringsprietslak), Westkapelle, The Netherlands (in vitro)

Dendronotus frondosus, frond-aeolis (NL: boompjesslak), Burghsluis, The Netherlands

A glass sculpture of the grey sea slug, Aeolidia papillosa (NL: grote vlokslak) by Leopold or Rudolf Blaschka.

Aeolidia papillosa, Anna Jacobapolder, The Netherlands 

Moving on to the phylum of Echinodermata in Haeckel's illustrations, like brittle stars, Ophiuriodea (above) and sea urchins, Echinoidea (further on). At the top right and photo below: Ophiothrix fragilis, the common brittle star (NL: brokkelster).


Ophiothrix fragilis, Zeelandbrug, The Netherlands

An illustration by the famous Dutch architect Berlage, displayed at A Sea of Glass, of discs of brittle stars. In their natural form and converted in graphical designs. Berlage was highly influenced by Haeckel's work.


Ophiopholis aculeata, crevice brittle star, Neck Point, Vancouver Island, Canada

Ophiura ophiura, serpent star (NL: gewone slangster), Brouwersdam, The Netherlands

Haeckel's illustration of details of sea urchins, like a spine (center left) and the mouth (top left).  

Psammechinus miliaris, Neeltje Jans, The Netherlands

Spines (above) and mouth (below) of the shore sea urchin, Psammechinus miliaris (NL: gewone zeeappel).

Psammechinus miliaris, Neeltje Jans, The Netherlands, staged

Marc Barreda must be inspired by sea urchins.


This sculpture by Newt Grover resembles the shape of sea urchins.

Echinus esculentus, edible sea urchin (NL: eetbare zeeappel), Pointe de Trévignon, Bretagne, France

Echinus esculentus, Ballyhenry (wreck Inner Lees / Empire Tana), Strangford Loch, Northern Ireland

The last wonderful illustration by Haeckel in this post shows Cyrtoidea (Radiolaria). This zooplankton produces intricate and incredibly beautiful mineral skeletons.


This glass sculpture of Irene Bussemaker could well be inspired by the illustration above.

This is a glass sculpture by Gabrielle van de Laak. It looks like a lamp, just as some Radiolaria.

About the exhibition: as you will be aware by now, it is absolutely worthwhile to see it for yourself! It lasts till 26 october 2014.

When you will be visiting the museum, do not miss out on the Glasblazerij (Glass Studio), where you can experience the production of glass art. The modern glass sculptures shown in this post were made here. 

1 comment:

Ryan Derks said...

Heel mooi de combinatie van kunst en foto's
Ryan