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Glass Jellyfish Display commemorates pioneering Irish Biologist Maude Delap

Artist, Andrea Spencer holds her glass model of a moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) in her workshop

For International Women’s Day 2023 we have added a new addition to the Wonder Cabinet, a glass model of a jellyfish made by artist Andrea Spencer that commemorates the 70th anniversary of the death of Maude Delap, a scientist who pioneered research into Jellyfish in Ireland.

Maude Delap (1866-1953)  was the first person in the world to breed jellyfish in captivity. 

She was a self-trained marine scientist that lived on Valentia Island, Co. Kerry. She spent her life working in her home laboratory recording experiments on marine-life in home-made sea aquariums. As a young girl and woman she was not provided with a formal education, however, this did not stop her becoming interested in and studying science. She became the first person in the world to breed jellyfish in captivity and observe their complex lifecycles. Maude, was one of many scientists that donated animals to the Museum’s scientific collection of over two million specimens.

Marking this pioneering research and her work, a new display of a glass jellyfish has been added to the “Wonder Cabinet” at NMI-Natural History. Created by artist, Andrea Spencer, a glass model of a moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) was commissioned by the Education Team at the National Museum of Ireland. Visitors to the Museum can now view it alongside a range of other real and replica specimens exploring the theme of predator and prey, in the one-of-a kind specially designed ‘Wonder Cabinet’.

The glass model is an artistic representation of a moon jellyfish, one of Ireland’s most common jellyfish and named for its see-through, moon-like bell body.
The fragile model is displayed at a height and designed to be viewed from below, or through a mirror, to give the viewer an unusual perspective and not unlike how we often encounter real-life jellyfish, while swimming in our coastal waters.  

When creating the designs for the Wonder Cabinet with Architects AP+E, we decided we wanted to show what jellyfish look like when they were moving, when we see them when swimming in the sea. One way museums exhibit jellyfish is to keep them preserved in spirits in a jar, but this way of displaying jellyfish often makes it difficult to get an idea of what they look like. Museums have a long tradition of using glass models to show what invertebrates, animals without a backbone, look like and this includes jellyfish.  By asking artist, Andrea, to create the model we are then carrying on a traditional museum method of displaying what jellyfish look like. Andrea has given us an insight into the shape and parts of a jellyfish and how it looks when it is swimming through the sea.  

Andrea's piece is a continuation of a long tradition of using glass to display models of jellyfish in this and other museums around the world.  The NMI- Natural History Museum holds an incredibly important collection of over 500 unique glass models of marine invertebrates (including jellyfish) made in the late 19th century by father and son team, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. These accurate, life-sized or magnified representations of marine life are some of the world’s finest masterpieces in glasswork. These were commissioned by museums in the past as they were one of the best ways to bring soft-bodied animals, like jellyfish, to life for study and general awe. These models are very delicate and at the moment whilst the museum is undergoing building works they majority are safely tucked away in storage, however, you can still view Blaschka glass models of a compass jellyfish, a squid and a selection of sea anemones and sea slugs on the ground floor of the Museum.

The moon jellyfish model is located at the Wonder Cabinet on the Ground floor of the Museum. When you visit the Wonder Cabinet you will see predators and prey, side by side such as the huge loggerhead sea turtle, alongside one of its favourite food, the moon jellyfish!
At the Museum we are looking forward to showing the new moon jellyfish model to inspire and engage visitors in upcoming events at the Wonder Cabinet.

To learn more about the inspiration behind the creation of the glass model and to see more images including close ups of the glass model and its delicate tentacles, the installation process and its final display inside the Wonder Cabinet please visit “What’s new at the Wonder Cabinet?”


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