Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Look into our eyes...

Curator of Design Arts Kory Rogers reminding himself of which pieces we've looked at.
In the course of preparing some of the objects from Shelburne's collection for Supercool Glass, curator Kory Rogers and I took a closer look at a collection of prosthetic eyes, normally on view in the doctor's office.  In particular, he was curious about how the capillaries were added to the whites of the eyes, but I found the manner in which the glass worker created the irises to be just spectacular. Here are a few examples of what we saw:

One example of what's referred to as a reform-style glass eye. The capillaries are applied as glass threads to the white glass.
Doesn't it look like there are butterscotch starlight candies in this iris?

Most of the eyes in this collection are of the reform style, originally developed in the 1880s by Dutch eye surgeon Hermann Snellen. Reform-style prosthetics are elliptically-shaped convex and hollow. Kory displayed one of these upside down in Supercool Glass to show how these were made. There are also a few examples of shell-style prosthetics in the group:
Two shell-style prosthetics turned upside down.

One of the reasons I find these prosthetics so interesting is that there are so many points of comparison with the dolls' eyes in the collection. Glass eye makers also made doll eyes. Perhaps the most amazing examples of glass doll eyes in Shelburne's collection are seen on the wax-over-papier mâché-headed doll by London maker Anthony Bazzoni, produced c. 1860. As gorgeous as they are, these spherical eyes just don't have the same level of realism as the prosthetics.

Not all glass doll eyes are globe-shaped or this realistic. Eighteenth-century examples of English glass doll eyes in Shelburne's collection are shaped something like cowrie shells. We get the best sense of that by looking at x-radiographs and CT scans.
I think you get the best sense of the shape of the doll's eyes in profile. The tacks around the crown of the head hold a wig in place.

Here's a frontal view radiograph. The wood doll was made in England c. 1720.

Of course, attempts at making realistic eyes in materials other than glass have a long history too. If you want to learn more, check out this post from our colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania Museum's conservation lab and their recent investigations of how eyes were made in a group of Egyptian wooden sculptural heads. 

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