Making Marvels

Science and Splendor at the Courts of Europe

Exhibition Website

Nov 25 2019 - Mar 1 2020

Innovation, technology, and spectacle combined in wondrous works of decorative art and furniture that embody the splendor and luxury of the royal courts of Europe.

Between 1550 and 1750, nearly every royal family in Europe assembled vast collections of valuable and entertaining objects. Such lavish public spending and display of precious metals was considered an expression of power. Many princes also believed that the possession of artistic and technological innovations conveyed status, and these objects were often prominently showcased in elaborate court entertainments, which were characteristic of the period.​

Making Marvels will explore the complex ways in which the wondrous items collected by early modern European princes, and the contexts in which they were displayed, expressed these rulers' ability to govern. Approximately 170 objects—including clocks, automata, furniture, musical instruments, jewelry, paintings, sculptures, print media, and more—from both The Met collection and over fifty lenders worldwide will be featured. Visitors will discover marvelous innovations that engaged and delighted the senses of the past, much like twenty-first-century technology holds our attention today—through suspense, surprise, and dramatic transformations.

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website


Whether or not you go, the exhibition catalog,  Making Marvels: Science and Splendor at the Courts of Europe, explores works in a wide range of materials, including precious metals, gemstones, pietra dura, marble, ivory, wood, bone, shell, glass, and paper. The book’s compelling essays address the layered historical context in which these objects were fashioned and gathered into cabinets of wonder at courts throughout Europe; elucidate their complex blending of art and science; and provide fascinating details about the patrons who commissioned them and the specialists who made them. At once beautiful works of art and technological wonders, the objects featured in this publication demonstrate how European royalty from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment signaled their status through their collections of ingeniously crafted inventions. 

Featuring 150 exemplary objects ranging from mechanical toys to scientific instruments, timepieces to automata, this groundbreaking study brings to life a glorious period when luxury, a quest for knowledge, scientific invention, and political power combined to produce remarkable works of art. More than frivolous playthings, these works inspired technical innovations that influenced a broad spectrum of activities, including astronomy, engineering, and artisanal craftsmanship.

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