Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums
There’s an object in the stores of the Whipple Museum that has intrigued me for ages, though it may be a stretch to call him Prince Charming. He’s striking to say the least: a 1 x 1 metre anatomical model of a frog, sitting on a mirror.
Personally I think he looks quite friendly, if a little unsettling initially. He came to the Whipple from the Department of Zoology, so he’s a long-term member of the University of Cambridge family. He’s probably from the early half of the 20th century, and he would’ve been used for teaching. Each of his muscles, made of colourful wax, is labelled with a numbered pin that students could look up in one of the five key booklets. He sits on a mirror so that students could see his underside clearly. It’s quite clever and I imagine it must’ve cost an arm and a leg (no pun intended) back in the day. A lot of thought and care clearly went into his manufacture.
Over time many muscles have come loose or become completely detached, so part of my job now is to learn as much as I can about frog musculature and anatomy so that I can put our frog back together. Sometimes there are clues on the object itself (wax residue in the right colour and shape) but often I have to use the text keys to find the Latin name of the muscle and then consult anatomical diagrams. If a muscle has lost its numbered pin this may be impossible, so this won’t be a complete reconstruction. My aim is to get him closer to his original state, and that’s a job and a half.
In addition to being a giant 3D jigsaw puzzle the model needed a thorough cleaning (things get dusty even in storage, after all) and some smaller repairs and TLC. Working with wax and cleaning the delicately detailed muscles is challenging, but I’m enjoying it a great deal. He is already looking happier than he did in the before photos, kindly taken by our other Museum Technician Rosanna Evans.
Our frog will go on display in the autumn term. Come and meet him in November!
Jenny Mathiasson, Museum Technician, Whipple Museum of the History of Science