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?
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?