Cabinets of Curiosity
Cabinets of Curiosity | Curiosity Cabinets | Cabinets of Wonder | Wonder-rooms | Kunstkabinett | Kunstkammer | Wunderkammer Kunst (art), Wunder (marvels) Cabinets of Curiosity came to be in the sixteenth century and consisted of the encyclopedic collection of objects and various materials of differing origins and geographical locations.  These collections ranged in size from Princely rooms (dedicated interconnected rooms in palaces purely for collections) to functional cabinets or, for the poor man, simply a table.  These collections were not just for the rich, but anyone from Kings to smiths. A Curiosity Cabinet was a collector’s way of showing their level of education (formal or self taught) and humanist learning, as shown through their collecting products of nature (naturalia), products of man (arteficialia), and products of man’s ability to dominate nature (scientifica).  Collections tended to focus more on the collector’s primary interest, which is where we get the different terms for the spaces collections were located in.  In Italy, museo, stanzino, or stidiolo was used to refer to collections that focused on works of art, such as paintings or etchings. 1   In the Northern countries, they were referred to as Kunst-und Wunderkammer, meaning cabinets of art and marvels, or Raritäten-Kabinett (Room of Curiosities), Kuriositäten (Cabinet), or Kammer (Rarities). 2 The fad for collecting and displaying objects swept through Europe in the 1500s, from Italy to Russia.  Travellers had been bringing back tokens from their adventures for years but the rekindled interest in Antiquity sparked a new obsession with collecting.  There was many a European traveller who, while visiting Ottoman ruled Greece, ruminated over what they believed to be the neglect and destruction of objects from Antiquity.  Some serious collectors would send agents into Ottoman lands solely on the mission to purchase, or steal ancient Greek artifacts.  One such agent, Reverend William Petty, is a prime example of the pitfalls of these fervent collectors.  Petty was sent to Ottoman Greece to find statues of Pergamum and Samos which he succeeded at and promptly lost them to the bottom of the sea due to a shipwreck. 3 Collectors were always seeking rare and curious objects, for what better a way to showcase one’s knowledge and status than with objects that no one else possessed.  Giant’s bones, mounted chimeras, rare jewels, unicorn horns, and other objects from exotic lands were paramount.  The sixteenth century bore witness to explorations to foreign lands, such as the Americas, and many Cabinets came to contain objects from Indigenous People of those lands. ______________________________________ 1 Wolfram Koeppe, “Collecting for the Kunstkammer,” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, accessed November 20, 2017, https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/kuns/hd_kuns.htm 2 Koeppe, “Collecting.” 3  Erin L. Thompson, Possession: The Curious History of Private Collectors from Antiquity to the Present (London: Yale University Press, 2016), 32.
Zoffany, Johann.  Tribuna of the Uffizi. C. 1772-1778, oil on canvas. Anonymous.  Dell’Historia Naturale.  1599, engraving. Anonymous.  Frontispiece from the Museum Wormianum.  1655, engraving
Cabinets of Curiosity
Cabinets of Curiosity | Curiosity Cabinets | Cabinets of Wonder | Wonder-rooms | Kunstkabinett | Kunstkammer | Wunderkammer Kunst (art), Wunder (marvels) Cabinets of Curiosity came to be in the sixteenth century and consisted of the encyclopedic collection of objects and various materials of differing origins and geographical locations.  These collections ranged in size from Princely rooms (dedicated interconnected rooms in palaces purely for collections) to functional cabinets or, for the poor man, simply a table.  These collections were not just for the rich, but anyone from Kings to smiths. A Curiosity Cabinet was a collector’s way of showing their level of education (formal or self taught) and humanist learning, as shown through their collecting products of nature (naturalia), products of man (arteficialia), and products of man’s ability to dominate nature (scientifica).  Collections tended to focus more on the collector’s primary interest, which is where we get the different terms for the spaces collections were located in.  In Italy, museo, stanzino, or stidiolo was used to refer to collections that focused on works of art, such as paintings or etchings. 1   In the Northern countries, they were referred to as Kunst-und Wunderkammer, meaning cabinets of art and marvels, or Raritäten-Kabinett (Room of Curiosities), Kuriositäten (Cabinet), or Kammer (Rarities). 2 The fad for collecting and displaying objects swept through Europe in the 1500s, from Italy to Russia.  Travellers had been bringing back tokens from their adventures for years but the rekindled interest in Antiquity sparked a new obsession with collecting.  There was many a European traveller who, while visiting Ottoman ruled Greece, ruminated over what they believed to be the neglect and destruction of objects from Antiquity.  Some serious collectors would send agents into Ottoman lands solely on the mission to purchase, or steal ancient Greek artifacts.  One such agent, Reverend William Petty, is a prime example of the pitfalls of these fervent collectors.  Petty was sent to Ottoman Greece to find statues of Pergamum and Samos which he succeeded at and promptly lost them to the bottom of the sea due to a shipwreck. 3 Collectors were always seeking rare and curious objects, for what better a way to showcase one’s knowledge and status than with objects that no one else possessed.  Giant’s bones, mounted chimeras, rare jewels, unicorn horns, and other objects from exotic lands were paramount.  The sixteenth century bore witness to explorations to foreign lands, such as the Americas, and many Cabinets came to contain objects from Indigenous People of those lands. ______________________________________ 1 Wolfram Koeppe, “Collecting for the Kunstkammer,” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, accessed November 20, 2017, https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/kuns/hd_kuns.htm 2 Koeppe, “Collecting.” 3  Erin L. Thompson, Possession: The Curious History of Private Collectors from Antiquity to the Present (London: Yale University Press, 2016), 32.
Zoffany, Johann.  Tribuna of the Uffizi. C. 1772-1778, oil on canvas.