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19th-century audiences were familiar with most of the animals that Dr. Auzoux modelled out of papier-mâché. This May beetle (Melolontha vulgaris) was a widespread agricultural pest, eating crops such as potatoes and corn.

Papier-mache and plaster model of a May beetle.
Image 1 Papier-mâché and plaster model of a May beetle by Dr. Auzoux; made circa 1850 (Wh.5181).

The May beetle

Like all of Dr. Auzoux's models, this large-scale model of the May beetle, made in 1878, can be taken apart to examine the organs. Over 600 anatomical details on the beetle are labelled and additional numbered labels show in what order it should be 'dissected' and re-assembled.

The Whipple Museum also has a prototype of the metal structures that were used to strengthen the May beetle model from the inside.

Papier-mache and plaster model of a May beetle - inside the head.
Image 2 Inside the head of the May beetle (Wh.5181).

Comparing different organs

In the early 19th century, natural history expert Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) promoted the idea of looking at a particular organ, such as the heart, in different kinds of animals and directly comparing their structures. This 'comparative anatomy' gave insights into more general laws that control the development of bodies.

Comparative anatomy was widely adopted in the following decades, as a central scientific field. It also made its way into the set of subjects that was considered appropriate for general audiences.

Papier-mache and plaster model of a May beetle - inside the body.
Image 3 Inside the body of the May beetle model, showing labelled organs (Wh.5181).

Auzoux's choice of animals

Auzoux developed his line of animal models after a suggestion from the French Academy of Medicine. He followed Cuvier's examples in choosing certain species to represent larger classes of animals. He chose a May beetle to represent insects, a sea bream for fish and a leech for segmented worms (annelids).

Auzoux wrote a textbook aimed at a general audience, comparing human anatomy and physiology to that of other animals. As in his models, Auzoux's book used Cuvier's system of classifying animals and represented the classes using certain specific examples.

Explaining how a body functions

Auzoux also adopted Cuvier's 'functional' approach to explain anatomical features in animals and humans. The textbook described how each higher function of the creature (such as breathing, digestion or circulation) had to develop from more basic ones. For example, digestion requires a breathing system, which in turn requires the existence of a circulation, and so on.

The Auzoux company produced separate enlarged models to compare, for example, the nervous systems or circulatory systems of different classes of animals.

Anna Maerker

Anna Maerker, 'Auzoux's animal models', Explore Whipple Collections, Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge, 2008.

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