Unicorn horns, mermaid skeletons, stuffed animals, preserved plants, clocks, scientific instruments, celestial globes: these are the contents of curiosity cabinets, which became fashionable in royal and aristocratic homes across Renaissance Europe,a time in history when man yearned to know everything as the effects of global exploration and scientific experimentation became more accessible.
Today we use the word cabinet of curiosity to describe any fascinating accumulation of mysterious objects. The original definition of the Renaissance cabinet of curiosities was more precise. It meant a diverse and carefully constructed collection of art and natural and man-made quirks that embodied the thirst for exploration and knowledge of the time, and laid the foundation for museums as we know them today.
Set of skullsmemento mori - Santa Muerte Paris
According to Quiccheberg, their content fell into a variety of categories such as artificialia , artificial antiques and works of art; naturalia , plants, animals and other objects of nature; Scientifica , scientific instruments; exotica , objects from distant lands; and mirabilia , an umbrella term for other wonders that arouse wonder.
Found in many corners of the globe, these objects represented a vast array of art, science, and mysticism - what Quiccheberg called a world theater.». Some were as small as a study, others as large as a maze of large rooms.
While the search for strange and wonderful objects has been part of human evolution for immeasurable times, such asl’ at highlighted Wolfram koeppe of Metropolitan Museum of Art , this collection process flourished during the Renaissance. The invention of the compass in the 13th century and subsequent improvements in cartography sparked an explosive period of exploration and world trade in the 1500s and 1600s. In this era of exploration, leaders from all over Italy, Spain and England sent explorers around the world in search of new territories and deeper knowledge of the world.e.
At the same time, science became a definite discipline that sought to answer big questions about the earth, the heavens, and the human body. As the Catholic Church attempted to ban scientific research - a threat to the theories advanced in biblical texts - volumes detailing medical discoveries and the structure of the cosmos were published in droves.
In his home in Naples, the Italian aristocrat and apothecary Ferrante Imperato has assembled a dense and legendary cabinet of curiosities that would have counted up to 35,000 plant, animal and mineral specimens.
Ferrante was also one of the first to represent a cabinet of curiosities, in the frontispiece of the 1599 catalog of his collection, Dell'historia natural. The woodcut shows four men in breeches surrounded by all manner of curiosities, neatly arranged in a complex of drawers, shelves and display cases. The content spills over to the ceiling, where a menagerie of stuffed fish, salamanders and seashells is strategically pinned around what looks like his prized possession: a stuffed alligator.
Collections like these functioned as an orderly microcosm of the larger world, as well as a platform for Renaissance people to satisfy their thirst for awe-inspiring experiences. The cabinet of curiosities was not an end in itself but a source of endless beginnings, a a writes the historian Earle Havens , a microcosm the size of a cupboard of the endless macrocosm, created by God, whose wonders never cease..
Most cabinets, however, weren't meant to be purely scientific - they were also places to explore personal taste, indulge in mysticism, and demonstrate power. Beyond objects taken directly from nature, typical cabinets of curiosities contained sculptures, paintings, books, coins, medallions, precious stones, maps and scientific instruments.
They also housed objects representing mysticism and the occult: so-called magic stones; horns supposedly belonging to unicorns; enchanted creatures believed to be mandrake and mermaids (made by sewing together a monkey's torso and a fish's tail). «Each object offered the opportunity to tell a story about an epic adventure or, more often, to craft one, aa written art historian Giovanni Aloi.
Collecting precious objects was a long-standing tradition among the powerful, so the early cabinets of curiosities regularly functioned as status symbols.
The breadth of a collection signified the intelligence, wealth, taste and commercial prowess of its owner. «Standing at the center of this mini-universe and pointing at the objects to reveal their deepest secrets, collectors felt a sense of ease and mastery over a world that most often seemed too big, too confusing and too inhospitable, Aloi continued..
Emperor Rudolf II was known for his eclectic collecting tastes, to say the least. If you had gotten an invitation to its opulent Prague Castle in the late 1500s, you might have been treated to a tour of its cache of treasures, which contained everything from magic stones, celestial globes and astrolabes to masterpieces by personalities such as
Albrecht Durer, Giuseppe Arcimboldo and Titian.