Brendel Plant Model Survey

Written by Donna Young, Curator of Herbarium, World Museum, National Museums Liverpool

Inspired by the project led by the Corning Museum of Glass, which looked at holdings of Blaschka models, I am embarking on a project to map and document collections of Brendel botanical models worldwide.

The objective of this project is not only to provide a useful resource to be used in the curation of anatomical models, but to document their past and present use – promoting and bringing awareness of these collections to new audiences.

Brendel model Papaver rhoeas
© National Museums Liverpool, World Museum

Anatomical Models

The nineteenth century was the golden age of scientific discovery, and as the century progressed, the teaching of science in schools, academies and museums evolved to reach a new mass public audience. Science was no longer the exclusive preserve of an elite few.

Changing teaching techniques promoted this transformation and pedagogical inquiry was seen as a constructive and involved way of learning. The written and spoken word was supported by the use of visually instructive wall charts and classroom demonstrations. The introduction of interactive teaching models encouraged audiences to understand nature using new and original perspectives.

Botanical models were used to illustrate and demonstrate plant anatomy. Unlike living material, their use was not restricted by seasonal availability and they were ideal for demonstrating small or ephemeral details which are difficult to preserve.

In 1827 Louis Auzoux established his workshop in France, manufacturing human and veterinary anatomical models from papier-mâché. The company also produced botanical models, which were widely distributed to universities and schools in France, particularly to support the expansion in teaching agricultural science.

Brendel model Centaurea cyanus ‘dissected’
© National Museums Liverpool, World Museum


Unlike the wide-subject range of the Auzoux catalogue, the Brendel Company of Berlin concentrated solely upon plants and fungi, and an extensive catalogue of work was developed in consultation with leading professors of botany. Using the papier-mâché base, other additional materials, including glass, gelatin and feathers were added to illustrate particular features. The subjects are depicted in a variety of different scales, ranging from the macroscopic to the microscopic. These models are the result of scientists and craftspeople collaborating to produce beautiful working tools for the communication of science.

The company, which was founded in 1866, exhibited and won many medals at a number of world fairs. The models themselves were distributed throughout the world via a mail order catalogue. Universities, botanic gardens and museums across Europe, and as far as Australia and South America, built up collections of Brendel models – some for display, but predominantly for use in practical teaching demonstrations. Though we lost a number of models in WWII, World Museum in Liverpool holds the largest known collection of Brendel models in the UK, with over 200 examples.

Brendel model Fumaria officinalis
© National Museums Liverpool, World Museum

A Collection in Pieces

Due to the component nature of the models, many now exist in collections with broken or completely missing parts. Each Brendel model will have originally been attached to a supporting base, with a manufacturer’s label showing the plant name, its scale and catalogue number. It is not unusual for these to have become detached and then wrongly re-assigned, sometimes through them being dismantled in storage.

During the documentation of our collection, I found it extremely useful to look, whenever possible, at models in other institutions, to help me with their identification and to identify detached pieces. It was during this process, that I realised there is little information relating to Brendel’s extensive catalogue of work, or where the remaining collections are held. Very little is also know about the company, which ceased trading between the wars, and only one printed catalogue (1913 – 14) is currently known to exist.

Brendel models on display Object Lessons, Manchester Museum
© National Museums Liverpool, World Museum

Models on Display

The use and appreciation of Brendel botanical models has changed markedly over time. Models were forgotten, unappreciated and confined to store rooms for much of the latter half of the twentieth century, only to be rediscovered and appreciated as ‘objects in their own right’ due to a growing interest in the history of science.

Increasingly, collaborations between artists, curators and scientists have resulted in these models being seen for ‘what they can be’, as well as ‘what they are and were’. Brendel models featured in Mark Dion’s 2005 installation The Bureau of the Centre for the Study of Surrealism and its Legacy and Salvatore Arancio’s Surreal Science exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery.

The convergence of science and art has resulted in a remarkable transition from the original use of these models as functional teaching tools, to objects of wonder and curiosity. In recent years we have seen the Liverpool collection reaching new audiences through creative exhibitions – Object Lessons at Manchester Museum (2017) and the Liverpool Biennial Worlds within Worlds at the Victoria Gallery & Museum (2018).

Brendel models on display at Victoria Gallery & Museum
© National Museums Liverpool, World Museum

Mapping the Collections

If you do hold Brendel models within your institution, I would very much appreciate it if you could complete the short survey at the end of this blog.

Data will be used to build a webpage in the form of an interactive online map with a brief overview of each collection, similar to the map on the Corning Museum website. The Brendel map will also provide links to associated publications, available databases, and online images. It is this additional information that I hope will be particularly useful for collection holders.

Over time this mapping exercise will enable the creation of a fully-imaged inventory of the entire Brendel catalogue, available for consultation. This will include photographs of models in their assembled and dismantled states. Subtle variations in the hand-crafted models will also be revealed by viewing comparative examples of the same species.

The collated information will:

  • aide consolidation of individual component model parts
  • help with the identification of unlabelled models
  • provide reference for assemblage
  • support further research into Brendel botanical models

Please click here for survey: Brendel Models

Brendel model Cuscuta trifolii being 3D imaged by Cyreal
© National Museums Liverpool, World Museum


3 thoughts on “Brendel Plant Model Survey

  1. Pingback: NatSCA Digital Digest – August | NatSCA

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  3. Pingback: Botany and Art: States of Preservation | Herbarium World

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