Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Let’s consider the Wunderkammer.



The Wunderkammer, or Cabinet of Curiosities, was big in the Renaissance. It was, in essence, a cabinet containing a collection of things that people would be interested in. They weren’t always cabinets - sometimes they were whole rooms.

For the most part, they were the personal collections of the nobility, the academics, or the very wealthy. The average person had neither the space, nor the connections, nor the disposable income to acquire enough of a collection.

So what was in a Cabinet of Curiosities? Anything, really - anything that attempted to capture the wonder of the natural world, or of historical or religious significance. It also included personal art collections – paintings, sculptures and the like.

The biggest ones were primarily a collection of preserved animals and skeletons, fossils and other preserved things. At this early era of scientific exploration, the supernatural and mythological boundaries of science were vague, and many cabinets contained items such as “unicorn horns” and evidence of other supernatural beasties.

The cabinets as they once were don’t really exist; they’ve become museums. The nature of the collections have changed as well; they’ve been broken up, divided and sent to their respective “places”. The animals are now at the museums of natural history, the art is at the art museums and so it goes.

In general, it’s better for the common good. These collections are laid out, clearly labeled, and placed for the whole world to see. Still, I can’t help but think that some of the wonder has gone away. Is it time for the personal wunderkammer to make a comeback?


Your Assignment

Consider this: you are setting out to create your own cabinet of curiosities. It can be a cabinet, or a room in your house. It’s a place to assemble all the items of wonder that you’d like to show off to a visitor. This includes your personal collections, things you take pride in and things you think people should know about.

What would be in there?

3 comments:

zilla said...

Fascinatingly enough, the literal translation of wunderkammer is "miracle chamber."

Is that not the most fucking awesome thing you've ever learned???

Ihr Gehirn ist ein wunderkammer. This is why I would include it in my cabinet of curiosities -- but not in a glass jar, or anything like that.

Are we going to Germany next? We should take Mysterious Coyote -- he's fluent and has contacts there.

fineartist said...

Cabinet of curiosities, I may have to blog on this, and link to you, and all that stuff…

But I’ll have to have a cabinet made of glass cause if it’s cool enough to put in my curiosities, well then I want it seen by all who happen by it, unless it’s sex toys, ur, not that I would have any of those….oh flap it….

From your comment on my blog a mous blog...we could be related, yes? Only you'd be one of the ones who I would sit back and laugh with, not at!

Writer Mom said...

I'm very attached to some things, but have found that others aren't too interested, as they're very personal, and not so rare except for the feelings attached to them.

For a time, I collected reproductions of paintings which had inspired some of my favorite novels. Then I became a fan of Cassatt and Berthe Morisot because while the men of their circles are much wider known, they painted scenes more reflective of my life. Mothers with children, most particularly. I remember explaining this one day to some visitors, that having Starry Night on my wall wasn't as meaningful to me as Breakfast in Bed, and of course they were more impressed with Tom's latest information about computer upgrades.
I have bits and pieces of family heirlooms. A handkerchief (maybe used for tears--but probably mostly for runny noses, come to think), a pillow case (because the women in my family used to sleep on it), a box of odd stuff I used to play with at Grandma's (coins, charm bracelets, marbles, etc., broken watches) and not because I found the stuff entertaining, but because she was near me whenever I played with them.
I'm not very much of an interesting collector. Everything is sentimental. Something, like my use for music, that takes me back to another moment.
I can appreciate fine collections of really cool things. Always thought I'd pick up a relic from every country. You're filling up quite the cabinet in that respect, which will be so fun to explain to the grandkiddies some day...