Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Curiouser and Curiouser ...

Gotcha! You thought it was going to be a post about one of my favorite subjects, didn't you? Well this is not about Alice in Wonderland...though the subject is almost as magical! I discovered some art that intrigued and amused me - more about that later. But it got me interested in doing some research ("research" to me translates as "finding fab pictures of cool stuff") on Curiosity Cabinets (also known as Kunstkammer, Wunderkammer, Cabinets of Wonder, or Wonder Room).

The term cabinet originally described a room rather than a piece of furniture. The classic style of cabinet of curiosities emerged in the sixteenth century, although more rudimentary collections had existed earlier. These cabinets were encyclopedic collections of types of objects whose categorical boundaries were - in Renaissance Europe - yet to be defined. Modern terminology would categorize the objects included as belonging to natural history (sometimes faked), geology, ethnography, archaeology, religious and historical relics, works of art, and antiquities.

The earliest pictorial record of a natural history cabinet is the engraving below in Ferrante Imperato's Dell'Historia Naturale (Naples 1599)
. Click on the image to get a good large picture to examine - the details are just wonderful.
Such a room served to authenticate its author's credibility as a source of natural history information, in showing his open bookcases at the right, in which many volumes are stored lying down and stacked in the medieval fashion - or with their spines upward to protect the pages from dust. Every surface of the vaulted ceiling is occupied with preserved fishes, stuffed mammals and curious shells, with a stuffed crocodile suspended in the center. Examples of corals stand on the bookcases. At the left, the room is outfitted like a studiolo, with a range of built in bookcases whose fronts can be unlocked and let down to reveal intricately fitted nests of pigeonholes forming architectural units, filled with small mineral specimens. Above them, stuffed birds stand against panels inlaid with sqwuare polished stone samples, doubtless marbles and jaspers or fitted with compartments for specimens. Below them, range of cupboards contain specimen boxes and covered jars.

Don't you just want to spend hours going through everything?!

The engraving below depicts one of the most famously described Cabinet of Curiosities, Ol Worm, known as Olaus Wormius (1588-1654). Again, be sure to click the image to get a larger photo, which shows his collection of
presevered animals, horns, tusks, skeletons, minerals, as well as other types of equally fascinating man made objects: sculptures wondrously old, wondrously fine, or wondrously small; clockwork automata, ethnographic specimens from exotic locations. The collection includes items both fact and fiction, including apparently mythical creatures. Ol Worm, however, was also responsible for identifying the narwahl's tusk as coming from a whale, and not a unicorn as most owners of these tusks believed.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, wealthy merchants and scholars often collected rare and curious objects. These collections would be housed in cabinets specially made for the collector. A collection would generally contain fossiles, old coins, precious stones, preserved organisms, ostrich eggs and man made objects.

This superb ebony cabinet was designed to store a collection of art and rare objects and was made about 1630 in Augsburg for Duke August of Brunswick-Luneburg.
Still, today, many are fascinated by the unusual and marvelous things that nature and man have created, and cabinets of curiosities are still enjoyed throughout the world.
If I have whetted your appetite for more, visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art's website to read about "Collecting for the Kunstkammer." You will find many beautiful and unusual pieces of art collected for the Cabinet of Curiosity.

So, are you still having fun?!
Welcome to my little mini-exhibit of Paris artist Maïssa Toulet's cabinets of curiosities. I found them strangely hypnotic - beautiful, clever, fascinating, and amusing. I hope you enjoy taking a peek at this artist's version of the Cabinet of Curiosities.

To see many more, visit her website at and discover many new treasures!

Oh! I almost forgot. Have I introduced you to my mother?
Well, I did get a little work done yesterday. I made ham salad ... and we all know what that means! Empty ham can for altering! Here is my first Day of the Dead Ham shrine for 2010! I really need a new supply of skulls!
What are YOU looking at?Oh, I get it. You're tired of reading this post and want me to get on with the day. Gotcha.

Thanks for spending some time with me today. I'll be here in New Haven, awaiting Spring and flowers and butterflies
while you go make something beautiful!
¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*´¨)
(¸.•´ (¸.•´♥ Tristan


DollZandThingZ said...

Tristan, did you go over to the British Museum of Art and see
"Promiscuous Assemblage, Friendship, & The Order of Things" ---which I think is open until March 7? I wanted to move into the installation...which is the mother lode of curiosities. It is jaw dropping.

Great post! I think my tiny home is actually a curiosity cabinet...

Your shrine is excellent!

Rebecca Nelson said...


I am soooo havin' fun my friend. But your momma is scary looking.



studioJudith said...

Adore EVERY Enchanting Vision!!!
Those engravings are some of the best I've ever seen .
(and anyone that didn't view LARGE
is missing out).

What is this world coming to,
when you're just teasing about
Alice and I'm actually posting
about Alice??!


**found some great illustrations,
I think you'll like :-))

studioJudith said...

Just jumping back to say -

Great Shrine!

Craftymoose Crafts said...

Those curiosity cabinet images were amazing. I found myself wanting to recreate one in a shadow box!

Love the Day of the Dead Ham shrine!

Sue said...

Whoa...loved enlarging the cabinet images and searching all the little intricate bits!

Love the ham tin shrine Tristan - have you tried sculpting your own little skulls out of clay?


P.S. I can see where you get your
long blond hair from. LOL

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

I love cabinets full of such curiosities! I do have a couple, but my photos are not very good and so my shots wouldn't be too stunning! Again, another fabulous post filled with wonder, glitter and some shocking fun!!!! That woman, YIKES! She is quite beautiful for being "mature"!

Bisous dearest one, Anita

OH! I LOVE THE HAM CAN SHRINE! You can make anything great out of nothing!

Susan said...

I have altered many things (especially being a GS leader and Crafts Trainer) and I would have NEVER thought of a can from a canned ham! how delightful!

love this post and will be back to spend more time on it!

Glennis said...

Do you know about our interesting little museum here in LA -

The Museum of Jurassic Technology


It's based on the idea of a cabinet of curiousities.

Lisa said...

Love this post - Love cabinets of curiosities - Love M. Toulet's work. You might want to check out this book - Cabinets of Curiosities, by Patrick Mauries, and if you are ever in London, definitely visit the Soane museum (if you haven't already).

Ingrid Mida said...

I find this so inspiring. I was just reading about the curiosity cabinet that Viktor & Rolf used in their 2008 retrospective exhibition at the Barbicon Gallery in London.