What is a cabinet of curiosities? The term “cabinet” originally described a room rather than a piece of furniture. These rooms, formally started in the sixteenth century, held large collections of unique objects. They served to demonstrate a person’s wealth and power, as well as provide entertainment for people to experience the strange and different. Some collections served a more scholarly function and were used as teaching and research tools.
This exhibit is a throwback to the early cabinet of curiosities. Highlighted are some of the Museum’s collection objects that have never been seen before, some unique, some a little odd, and some common items that look a little different today.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website
Whether or not you go, the sumptuously illustrated Cabinets of Curiosities opens the door to the grand tradition of collecting and displaying rare, exotic, or unusual objects. Unicorns’ horns, mermaids’ skeletons, stuffed and preserved animals and plants, work in precious metals, clocks, scientific instruments, celestial globes . . . all knowledge, the whole cosmos arranged on shelves. Such were the cabinets of curiosities of the seventeenth century, the last period of history when man could aspire to know everything.
Who were the collectors? They were archdukes and kings―the Emperor Rudolf II was the prince of all collectors―rich merchants and scholars, and their collections ranged from a single crowded room to whole palatial suites. Patrick Maurie`s traces the amazing history of these “rooms of wonders” in this ingeniously erudite survey. Not many of the rooms survive, though there are pictorial records, but their contents still exist and are among the treasures of museums all over the world. 139 full-color and 133 black-and-white illustrations.