Wax model mounted on wooden stand. The wax models on display were used at the University of Birmingham from the early twentieth century as a teaching aid in embryology, the study of embryo development. They were employed in lectures, and replaced the development charts and diagrams that were previously used. Their three-dimensional format clarified the external and internal parts of embryos, providing enlarged portrayal of complex structures. From the mid nineteenth century, the models were also integrated into academic research, with embryologists designing new models as visual explanatory aids. The publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) greatly increased their prominence, as Darwin’s theories on evolution generated a keen interest in human development, and made embryological development a popular topic amongst both academics and the general public. Most of the models were produced by Adolf Ziegler and his second son, Friedrich, whose work received international praise and dominated the wax modelling industry from the mid nineteenth century. Based in Freiburg (South Germany), Adolf Ziegler founded his modelling workshop in 1868, and was commissioned by museums, universities and individuals to make high quality embryological waxes. Ziegler presented himself as a ‘plastic publisher’, who created models from diagrams and specimens sent to him by researchers with whom he collaborated. These embryologists, who he named ‘authors’, would then ‘proof read’ initial drafts of new models, checking for errors and suggesting improvements. This led to a mutually beneficial relationship for both parties, as Ziegler was able to associate his name with renowned embryologists, such as Wilhelm His and Ernst Haeckel, whilst the ‘authors’ maintained the credit for their scientific contribution. When the elder Ziegler died in 1889, his son Friedrich took over the workshop and further improved modelling techniques by adding a coloured finish which helped clarify the specimens’ various segments.
In subsequent decades, the demand for wax models declined and ultimately ceased, as embryology became more experimental and less descriptive. By the Second World War, most universities had stopped using embryological models, drawing on newer technologies to interact and explain embryo development to students. The models on display here are part of the Medical Collection, one of the collections looked after by the University’s Research and Cultural Collections.
Artist: Ziegler, Friedrich
Created: 19th century
ID Number: BIRRC-M0099
Institution: Research and Cultural Collections
Named Collection: Medical School Collection
Object Type: Model
Place Made: Germany