3D Collection – a Breeding Bull by Max Landsberg

This animal model is one of a total of seven that the collection of scientific instruments and teaching aids managed to acquire from the former Institute for Animal Breeding.

Models in teaching & research 

Animal sculptures like these were used for teaching purposes in agricultural or veterinary institutes. These animal sculptures were created using real animals as models. However, only award-winning pedigree animals were used: in this case a breeding bull belonging to a Mr Calabresi from Palidoro (Rome). These animals were selected by the German Ministry of Agriculture and Agricultural Training Institutes.1

The models reproduce the animal at a ratio of either 1/4 or 1/6 of its natural size. The model shown here bears the engraving “1/6 nat. size”.

Max Landsberg and SOMSO

This bull was modelled by Max Landsberg (1850-1906) in 1889. It was made using plaster with iron rod inlays, then hand-painted. Landsberg was a German sculptor who created mainly animal models, but also portrait busts. Starting in 1936, SOMSO took over Max Landsberg’s range of pedigree animal statues and produced his animal models in series.

To this day, SOMSO is still known for models for teaching and research in the fields of zoology, botany and anatomy. The company was founded in 1876 by Marcus Sommer in Sonneberg (hence the name SOMSO). It achieved huge commercial success in the 1920s with its wide range of products: from anatomical models of humans and animals to botanical models and animal sculptures. The first models were made of wax and papier-mâché. Plaster and plastic were added subsequently — the latter as early as the 1930s.2


Plaster models are very susceptible to damage by breaking. The condition of objects incorporated into the collection of scientific instruments and teaching aids varies widely depending on the conditions under which they have been stored. These animal models had long been stored in an attic at ETH, where conditions were warm and dusty. They sustained some damage there, or while being used in teaching. For instance, the bull model had broken horns and was very soiled.

The following two pictures show the model’s condition when it was added to the collection. The horn on the right is almost completely broken off up to the tip, while the second horn is missing its base. The iron rod system that underlies the plaster and forms the basic framework of the animal model is also clearly visible.

Restorer and plaster specialist Urs Lang, who was commissioned to restore the bull and other animal models, was able to determine that the horns had already been crudely replaced and retouched using papier-mâché. They had presumably been broken off at some point. Lang removed the papier-mâché and modelled the horns in several steps using replacement material (picture below left). After this step-by-step replacement was completed, the horns were retouched with paint (picture below right). The transition between the original and the retouched version is still visible in the 3D model.

In the case of collection objects, the question as to whether or not something that has been destroyed should be replaced and retouched always arises. The objects are frequently not retouched, instead being left in the condition in which they were found. This is because traces of use and damage can also provide valuable clues about how an object was used. Moreover, when an object has been retouched, it no longer corresponds to the original. Nevertheless, we decided to take this step in this case, although the intervention was kept to a minimum. If the bull had been added to the collection in its existing condition, the original parts of the horns would have broken off quite quickly, as they were already very fragile. Also, the base of the horns would have been further destroyed. Modelling the bull using replacement material allowed the original parts to be preserved.3

3D Digitalisation

Object selection
Although animal models have played an important role in science teaching for many years, visitors are often surprised to find models such as these in our collection. The animal models are a good example not only of the variety of the collection of scientific instruments and teaching aids, but also of the diversity of scientific teaching and research at ETH. This was one of the reasons why this model was selected. It is also representative of the restoration and conservation work on our objects.

Being a static object, the animal model does not need to be animated. Inscriptions and engravings that are important for research can be clearly determined based on the images in our online catalogue. Visitors are provided with a good view of the original during a guided tour. For these reasons, we would prefer not to have such models 3D digitised in the future, instead investing the resources in a tool where 3D digitisation with animation adds value in helping to understand the functions. But maybe there are other uses for it? Maybe it will find its way into a computer game? We are excited and look forward to hearing about it: scientific-instruments@library.ethz.ch.

Photogrammetry and modelling
The bull model is made of matt, painted plaster. This material can be captured well using photogrammetry and required only a few manual additions.

2. Mühlenberend, Sandra: Dingliche Sendboten in alle Welt. Die anatomischen Lehrmodell des Deutschen Hygiene-Museums, in: Sybilla Nikolow (Hg.): Erkenne dich selbst! Strategien der Sichtbarmachung des Körpers im 20. Jahrhundert, Schriften des Deutschen Hygiene-Museums Dresden, Bd 11, Köln 2015, S.198-211, S.203.
3. Compare a major restoration project of original Max Landsberg animal models at the LMU Munich: Tierstatuettensammlung – Frischekur für Zackelschaf, Pinzgauer und Co, in: MUM. Münchner Unimagazin, 12.09.2022 https://www.lmu.de/de/newsroom/newsuebersicht/news/tierstatuettensammlung---frischekur-fuer-zackelschaf-pinzgauer-und-co.html/

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