Ziegler's Wax Models

Models of the animal body began to be mass-produced during the 18th century, and the market for them grew alongside the 19th century expansion of universities and their new, experimental scientific disciplines. Frogs played an especially prominent role in the study of animal reproduction. Our wax models from the Ziegler studio represent two uses of frogs in developmental biology and point to the role that frogs, and the artisans who modelled them, played in 19th century biological controversies.

Primordial skull
Image 1 Models of frog, salmon, and axolotl 'Primordial' skulls during embryonic development by Adolf Ziegler, circa 1881. Image © the Whipple Museum (Wh.6401, Wh.6402 and Wh.6403).
Wax Models
Image 2 Wax models of common frog embryos by Adolf Ziegler, circa 1851-52. Image © the Whipple Museum (Wh.6404-Wh.6428).

Adolf Ziegler (1820-1889) was the 19th century's pre-eminent wax modeller in developmental physiology and anatomy. His clients were the growing number of researchers who studied the forms and transformations of animal embryos and their internal anatomy. Ziegler's enlarged wax models provided one especially vivid and illuminating way of conveying knowledge of physical structures in otherwise microscopically small, changing, and complex embryonic forms. The Whipple Museum contains many wax models from the Ziegler studio, two sets of which contain representations of the frog.

The Whipple Museum's 'primordial skull' collection contains Ziegler models of the structure found in the heads of three vertebrate embryos during early embryonic formation. This structure, made of cartilage was understood to shape the later growth of the mature skull's solid bone. The 'higher' the vertebrate, the earlier the mature skull replaced its 'primordial' predecessor, as biologists understood it. The models were sold in a display case that includes labelled representations of frog, salmon, and axolotl embryos.

In 1889, Adolf Ziegler died and left his business to his son, Friedrich. The Ziegler studio weathered its founder's death with ease; strong international reputation ensured continued prosperity throughout Friedrich's management. The 're-publication' of some of his father's earliest models, like our series charting the development of a frog embryo, attests to that continued prosperity. This series, made in 1892, follows the transformation of a single fertilized embryo as it multiplies and transforms into a mature tadpole.

For analysis of our Ziegler models' relation to academic controversy, and the role of artisans in biological research, see Frog Models, Artisans, and Academic Controversy.

On the different types of wax modelling pursued in studies of reproduction and development, see Techniques of observing and modeling.

Henry Schmidt

Henry Schmidt, 'Ziegler's Wax Models', Explore Whipple Collections, Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge, [http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/whipple/explore/frogs/zieglerswaxmodels/, accessed 23 May 2019]

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