If I had my own girl band I would call it The Glass Flowers, after the famous ones at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Two Dresden glass blowers, Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, crafted about 4,400 of these teaching models, for nearly 800 different species, between 1886 and 1936. The figures are uncanny in their fineness and faithfulness. All of the tiniest parts — filaments, pollen, petioles, stipules — are there, translated into glass. The effort that went into fabricating these models is mind-boggling. The Blaschkas must have gone mad, or at least blind.
The models are accurate in fact but not in spirit. There’s no doubt that all the parts of each plant are present and rendered with perfect accuracy. In fact, the glass flowers seem more complicated and biological than real flowers. But there’s something funereal about them. They’re lying on their sides in low, dimly-lit glass vitrines, coated with a fine layer of dust. And they’ve been painted with soft, matte colors, so that they don’t have the lush sheen of real plant parts, or even of glass. Their lifelessness is especially noticeable with familiar varieties. The daisy and the banana are at once real-looking and patently false. If Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs but the sex back in flowers, the Glass Flowers sucks the sex right out of them. They’re fascinating and inert.