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The Ocean at Home
An Illustrated History of the Aquarium

 Age of Aquariums > Aquarium Books

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Author: Bernd Brunner
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press (2005)
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 144

The aquarium was invented 150 years ago. Inquisitive natural science, collecting mania and a desire for the ocean combined with technical innovations of the Victorian age created this peculiar apparatus. At the same time as scientists were starting to explore the submarine world due to the new technical possibilities available to them, the aquarium expanded from the scientists’ laboratories into people’s homes. At first in Great Britain, but soon afterwards in Germany and the United States.

Just as zoological gardens had brought fauna to the cities several decades previously and the glasshouses of the botanical gardens had become the home of tropical flora which nature lovers and flâneurs could stroll through like a living compendium, the aquarium minimized the submarine world to a “transparent” form which one was able to wander through and discover visually – an ocean adventure within one’s own four walls. Positioned in front of the window or like a painting on the wall, it displayed moving pictures full of adventure and exotica, presenting ”the secrets of the deep-sea“. These ”tableaux vivants“, as Arthur Mangin once wrote, with their inhabitants such as sea anemones and hermit-crabs living together in symbiosis, offered picturesque and rare scenes which provoked equivocal analogies for the people’s lives.

The large public aquariums at the Great Exhibitions changed the ”ocean at home“ from being an individual experience to being a common one. This reached its climax 1867 in Paris in an optically stunning room which was surrounded by glass – the “wonders of the ocean“ above the heads of the astonished visitors, similar to the present day oceanaria, the radicalization of the aquarium in the 21st century.

How did the fascinating idea of simulating the exotic world of the ocean in a small tank, to gaze at it in wonder and to observe it meticulously, originate? And how can the sudden and enthusiastic response to this idea be explained? These are some of the questions I address in this new book.

Personally contributed by Bernd Brunner (author)

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