For most of my life I’ve been fascinated by the idea of a “cabinet of curiosities.” In German, one of words used to describe these intriguing collections of collectables is Wunderkammer. I love the sound of that—more than curiosities, the collection is filled with WONDER and mystery! A few years back I took a day trip to Dresden while visiting Berlin and I was “captured” by the many Kunstkammer (art chambers) at the Staaliche Kunstsammlungen museum.
Anyone who knows me at all will know that I’m an art lover and that I can spend an entire days in museums full of paintings. But when it comes to the subject of Cabinets of Curiosities, it is the collections of scientific instruments, fossils & rocks, miniature religious carvings, and peculiar bits & pieces that I find compelling.
Before there was a clear dividing line between magic and science, and before the kind of modern specialization that delineated disciplines so that journalists & novelists seem like separate species and botanists focus on particular plant families, there were educated, curious people (most often men of means as women rarely had the time & money) committed to learning in the broadest sense. They read ancient manuscripts on magic, traveled to exotic places, and collected objects.
Shrunken heads, feathers from far away birds, skeletons of small mammals, dinosaur bones, fossils, crystals, arcane tools, ancient carved totems, porcupine quills, and other fascinating things were on display to inspire the collector or inspire envy in other curious men of means.
Artists have often collected stuff and filled their studios. Matisse is known for fabrics; Picasso collected African masks & statues; and Rembrandt had a cabinet of curious objects that would have made any of his contemporaries jealous.
Like everyone else today, I collect bits & pieces of stories that are digital as opposed to concrete. Snippets of news articles, images of art, quotes from philosophers, etc. crowd my computer desktop or get printed out and stuck to my bulletin board along with the phone number of the doormen’s desk and the routing number for my bank account. Still I have actual STUFF in my own version of a curiosity cabinet. It’s the stuff that hangs out with my perfume bottles. It’s my personal wunderkammer of small things.
Do you have a cabinet of wonders?