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Image Botanical model of henbane plant, 1885

TLF ID M000436

This is a botanical model of the fruit of the 'Hyoscyamus niger' plant, also known as henbane. It was manufactured in 1885 in France from papier-mâché, wood and metal. The model comprises a thick, green, curved stem with a pair of tightly wrapped leaves and an enlarged section of one half of a fruit. One side of the model shows the outside of the fruit, which is dark red with white vertical lines; the other side shows the seeds and internal veins, which are mottled red, cream and brown. The square base of the model is painted black. The model measures 430 mm (height) x 190 mm (width) x 118 mm (depth).

Educational details

Educational value
  • In the second half of the 19th century interest in the anatomical structure of animals and plants increased markedly. This led to supply problems when teachers and students wanted to acquire human bodies for educational purposes and zoological and botanical specimens from around the world. The result was an increased demand for models that were structurally correct and robust enough to withstand the classroom environment.
  • Papier-mâché was introduced in the 19th century for making structural models of all kinds of objects found in nature. Traditionally wax had been used to make models but wax models were delicate and susceptible to changes in temperature, which could cause them to melt or lose their shape. Modellers found papier-mâché more robust and it enabled craftsmen to fashion models in sections that could be removed in layers as if a real dissection were taking place.
  • A pioneer of this form of modelling was Louis Thomas Jérome Auzoux (1797-1880), a French medical graduate. Around 1820 he visited the workshop of Jean-Francois Ameline, who had introduced papier-mâché to the modelling process. Auzoux soon learnt the process and set up a workshop in his home town of Saint Aubin d'Ecrosville in 1827. His medical background enabled him to make highly accurate models, while his experiments with papier-mâché resulted in the development of a variety of finishes which incorporated plaster, fabric and glass. The other aspect of Auzoux's success was his application of moulding techniques that allowed him to produce models in larger numbers.
  • A common feature of many of Auzoux's models is the use of paint on a thin plaster layer to cover the papier-mâché. Studio artists were employed to add the finishing touches using egg tempera, which gave a shiny gloss to the finished work. Iron supports were included to reinforce the delicate areas of some models, and metal was sometimes used to connect parts.
  • In 1865 Auzoux introduced a new line of large-scale botanical models for educational use. These were made using Auzoux's papier-mâché moulds and painted plaster. Their exaggerated size allowed students to examine tiny details more easily than in the often-fragile botanical specimens. Another advantage was the fact that real specimens preserved in alcohol tended to lose their colour while Auzoux's painted models enabled students to get an idea of their colour in real life. Auzoux's models were acclaimed throughout Europe.
  • Although Auzoux used moulds to make multiple copies of his models, they were still extremely labour intensive and as a result were never produced in large numbers. Today these models are highly sought after by collectors and museums not only for their place in the history of the medical and natural sciences but also as works of art in their own right.
  • The fruit of henbane is toxic. The name of the plant originates from the Anglo-Saxon 'hennbana' ('killer of hens'). In humans, consumption can lead to hallucinations and convulsions.

Other details

  • Contributor
  • Name: Powerhouse Museum
  • Organization: Powerhouse Museum
  • Description: Content provider
  • Address: NSW, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
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  • Image
  • © Curriculum Corporation and Trustees of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences 2010 (except where otherwise indicated). You may view, display, print out, copy and modify this material for non-commercial educational purposes provided you retain all acknowledgements associated with the material.