Dr Auzoux's Cockchafer
It being the month of May, photographs of May bugs Melolontha melolontha (a beetle a.k.a. the cockchafer, billy witch, and spang beetle) are making their annual appearance on blipfoto.
This larger than life anatomical model of a maybug was made in the 19th century by the factory of Dr Louis Auzoux.
Dr Louis Auzoux (1797-1880), a French doctor, was one of the pre-eminent makers of models of humans and other animals during the 19th century. As a young medical student, he had great difficulty in studying human anatomy since cadavers were difficult to come by and decayed rapidly. Auzoux devised an elegant solution; inspired by the toy puppets sold on the streets of Paris, he started to make papier-mâché models of human dissections. In 1822, the same year that he received his medical degree, Auzoux presented his first complete anatomical male figure to the Paris Academy of Medicine, receiving a commendation for his work.
The genius of Auzoux's models lay in the fact that, not only were they realistic and anatomically accurate, but also they could be taken apart and reassembled by the student. This was the reason that Auzoux called his papier mâché models anatomy clastique, from the Greek word klastos, which means broken in pieces.
Five years after presenting his first model to the Paris Academy, Auzoux opened a factory in a large house in his home village of Saint-Aubin-D'Ecrosville, Normandy (See map), providing much needed employment and prosperity for many families.
The early models from the factory were of human structures, the most spectacular being 'Homme Clastique', a life size body, composed of 130 pieces of papier mâché, entirely dissectible and with 2000 anatomical structures. Later, the factory diversified into zoological, veterinary, and even botanical models. Achieving an international reputation, the company went on to produce a very large range of models that were exported all over the world and which won gold medals at many exhibitions, including the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London.
The models were made entirely by hand by a skilled workforce of men and women. The first step in the process was to make three-dimensional leaden moulds of the various components of the models. The re-usable moulds, which were set into blocks of wood, were first of all lined with several layers of glued paper and then filled with "Terre" a paste of flour glue, finely shredded paper, chopped rags, blanc de Meudon (calcium carbonate) and poudre de Liège (powdered cork). The last two ingredients were essential to the process and were kept secret, never written down but passed by word of mouth.
The two halves of the mould were aligned and forced together in a formidable wooden press, until dry. After removal from the press the model components were reinforced with wire, carefully trimmed and then skilfully painted so as to look as natural as possible. Arteries, veins and nerves were crafted from wires wound with coloured and ribbons and other textiles, painted and then carefully wired and glued into place.
Finally the various parts of the model were articulated with a variety of pins and fastenings so that it could be taken apart and reassembled at will. The resulting models were solid and robust and capable of withstanding regular handling by generations of students.