THE „VITREOUS MAN “ („GLÄSERNER MANN”) FROM 1936 OF THE DEUTSCHES HYGIENE‐MUSEUM DRESDEN.
STUDIES ON ITS HISTORY, MATERIALS, MANUFACTURING TECHNIQUES AND DAMAGE PATTERNS
BY URSULA HALLER
In 1930, at the „II. Internationale Hygiene‐Ausstellung” in Dresden, the astonished public saw a „Gläserner Mann” („Vitreous Man“) for the first time – at the time an engineering marvel.
True‐to‐life reproductions of skeleton, inner organs, bloodstreams and nerve tracts could be examined in an entirely transparent human body. „Vitreous Men“ were produced in the Deutsches Hygiene‐Museum Dresden (DHMD) since 1927. Until 1946, eight figures were produced. One of them was destroyed during the war, one is still in the US today, two are in possession of the German Historic Museum Berlin, four of the figures were deemed lost. The rediscovery of one of these figures was a bit of a sensation: in 2009, the DHMD could acquire a
„Vitreous Man“ of 1936 from a Finnish artist, who had shown it for decades on travelling exhibitions together with a so‐called „Anatomic Panopticum“. A marked gap in the portfolio of the DHMD was thus closed, as until then it did not have its own „Vitreous Figure“ from this important period of its history, in which the museum achieved great international acceptance – not least due to the famous „Vitreous Figures“, which were still being produced in the museum’s workshops until the beginning of the 1990s.
The degree programme „Art Technology and Conservation of Works of Art” at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts is cooperating with the DHMD in a research project that centres on the newly acquired „Vitreous Man“ which is in great need of conservation. The various prefabricated parts of the figure, which was assembled by hand, exhibit a multitude of damages, caused by manufacturing techniques, combination of materials, ageing of material and general use. The aim of the research is the development of possible concepts for the conservation of the figure. In terms of material history, the early „Transparent Figures“ as they were first called, are particularly interesting, since the transparent outer skin – which in post war production consisted of acryl glass – as well as the inner organs (which could be illuminated) – were originally made of Cellon, one of the earliest transparent thermoplastic cellulose acetate‐based synthetic materials. For the realistic representation of bones, inner organs, veins, etc., a variety of further materials was used, in addition to aluminium alloy, lead and copper, for example also cellulose nitrate varnishes.
In writing their term papers, the three authors are currently establishing the basis for the further scientific investigation of the „Gläserner Mann “. In addition to the history of development of the „Vitreous Figures“ , topics of interest include aspects of their significance in terms of cultural and technical history, the materials used and their manufacturing and processing technologies, aspects of material ageing and last but not least the reconstruction of the history of damage of the figure. Archive material was viewed and contemporary witnesses were consulted, to enable comparisons with post war productions. Most notably, a substantial examination of the figure itself in terms of the materials, manufacturing techniques and damage patterns was carried out, accompanied by first scientific analyses. The contribution will summarise the results of the three works.