Figurative miniature microscope by Gustave Moreau, Paris, ca. 1850

Figurative miniature microscope by Gustave Moreau, Paris, ca. 1850

Stock Number: FG_22021


The microscope has a circular base, supporting a limb in the form of a bronze statuette of a frock-coated gentleman. He has attached to his outstretched arm a small stage, from which descend two clips carrying the gimbal of the plane mirror. Above the stage rises a pillar carrying an arm in which is set a sleeve, sliding in which is the tiny body tube. The functional microscope performs an estimated 50-fold linear magnification with a single lens and a screw-eyepiece with a field lens in the tube.
Only three microscopes of this type are known, of which this specimen is the most complete.


Case: 18 x 9 x 7.5 cm, microscope height: 15 cm




Gustave Moreau, Paris

Country of manufacture


Categories: Scientific, Microscopy, Mineralogy & Gemmology, Natural history, Magic Lanterns & Optical Toys


So far, the only two other examples are known to us to this little microscope. One is the incomplete SML A6832 now deposited at the Science Museum in London, and the other was sold in an auction in 1999. This example is the most complete, having all parts but also the signature.

A tiny, millimeter-sized stamped signature underneath the coat of the gentlemen, reading: MOREAU / PARIS. This is the final proof of the attribution of this microscope to this Parisian maker. Judging by the materials involved (brass rather than a nickel), this microscope was probably the forerunner of Moreau’s more famous and more common (about 20 copies are reported to be known), “Monkey Microscope.” It was designed as a seated ape supporting a miniature microscope (similar to the one seen here) but with a face having some human features. It was commonly interpreted as an allegorical comment on Darwin and evolution. It may have been related to Darwin’s The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, published in 1871. However, there is no evidence to support this anecdotal urban tale.

The Monkey Microscope and the presumably earlier version seen here share many characteristics. The figurine is cast by the lost wax (cire perdue) method and connected to the base with screws. The tiny microscope has, but one magnification, and the frame and sleeve holding it are similar in both models. So is also the stage and the mirror’s forked holder.

Previous interpreters of these microscopes did not refer to the identity of this Moreau of Paris. First and foremost, it should be noted that the reference to an “M. Moreau” appears only in the caption of Fig. 86 of The Billings Microscope Collection catalog. It may refer to signatures of Moreau Ingénieur opticien à Paris appearing on two ordinary French microscopes from the SMLIn reality, this is merely an interpretation since the signatures on all statuette microscopes, including the Billings specimen, are either “MOREAU” or “MOREAU PARIS.” The question is whether the signature refers to the microscope part or to the figurine to which it was added, presumably forming the central part of the creation. If the signature refers to the sculpture, it may very well be related to a member of the famous 19th-century clan of sculptures of bronze/brass statuettes. However, it seems to be associated with the Parisian instrument maker Gustave Moreau (1805-1880), a manufacturer of binoculars, established at 167 rue Saint-Maur, in Paris from 1830 and on. He invented the system allowing mobile and parallel spacing of the two tubes.

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IL Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh was the mythological hero of the cultures of ancient West Asia, who set out on a journey in which he sought youth and eternal life.
Fleaglass Gilgamesh is located in Israel. As an archaeologist researching the material culture of the distant past and using the microscope as a major research tool, for more than two decades I have collected microscopes from the first 300 years of existence of this amazing tool and researched the cultural context of their use. Passion has become an obsession and I cultivate the full and almost unique West Asian collection of historical microscopes. Respectively, I put up for sale surplus or interesting items from the collection. I would be happy to advise any interested collector free of charge. Needless to say, I would love to send photos, information and bibliographic references, and discuss the sale details of the items offered here for sale.

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