Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Lovely Bones

Following on from my last post on the Pitt Rivers museum, here's another unique assemblage of artifacts accumulated by various explorers and scientists. This time, it's a French collection - or rather, two collections that share a building and vibe with each other - at the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle (National Museum of Natural History) in Paris.

Having exhausted myself in Italy, I didn't do much preparation for my week in France. Luckily, a friend recommended visiting this excellent place. The main building (seen in the distance above) is a feat of engineering and creative thinking. It's home to the Great Gallery of Evolution - which is definitely getting its own post in the future. It also houses the greatest insect collection ever.

I just love beetles. Then again, I'd like anything that spends its day rolling poo into a ball, dancing on it, then eating it. What a life.

I digress.

It was the Galerie de paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée (Gallery of Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy) that really blew my mind, so it's getting special attention.

According to Wikipedia:

"The Gallery was inaugurated in 1898 as part of l' Expositions universelles de Paris of 1900 and was the creation of professors Albert Gaudry (Professor of Paleontology) and Georges Pouchet (Professor of Comparative Anatomy) who wished to preserve and present to the public collections of great historic and scientific importance. The collections derive from the great expeditions of the traveller-naturalists of the 18th and 19th centuries as well as from the ménagerie' (zoo) of the Jardin des Plantes."

Those World's Fairs must have been so fun.

They even had booth babes.


I digress again.

The first floor of the building hosts the Gallery of Comparative Anatomy. As in the Pitt Rivers museum, the presentation is quite unique - masses of full skeletons standing together in the center, loosely organised by size and type, while others are grouped in cases and on shelves around them. I've never seen so many bones in one place before...

Perhaps some might find this morbid or weird, but I loved it. The light coming through the windows gave everything a warm glow, while the skeletons themselves just looked really... cheerful.

Around the walls, organic specimens are preserved in carefully hand labeled jars, along with old models and diagrams intended to educate the viewer.

What is this? I have no clue, but it comes from inside a giraffe.

Looks a bit naughty.

Teratology is defined medically as the study of physiological anomalies, however it's interesting to note the word's etymological origins as the "study of marvels and monsters."

The Gallery of Palaeontology is on the second floor and holds the oldest skeletons: the dinosaurs, extinct creatures, and inconceivably ancient fossils.

Verandas coast gently around the periphery of the second floor, and are beautifully dilapidated. It seems the French really understand the value of imperfection and age. Things don't need to be shiny and perfect and new all the time. It's nice to see the broken bits, the cracks and worn places. This is where character lives.

Third (and final) digression - these remind me of doing school projects, before the computer took over. Carefully drawing in the lines with a ruler, and writing everything by hand. Discovering things and sticking them to cardboard. Drawing wonky pictures - actually cutting and pasting. There is something magic about the process of creating with your own hands. The beautiful imperfection again.

A series of colourful posters were arranged on the walls above the veranda and I *think* they may have been made by local students. Whoever made them, they're awesome.

No idea what this is, but I like it.

Hope that gratuitous blzzard of images hasn't killed your computer.

Long story short - the Galerie de paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée is magnificent and you should visit if you ever get the chance.