Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cabinets of Wonder "Wunderkammer"

Earlier this month I visited the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland where I had the joy of being in a replica of an old museum that contained Cabinets of Wonder. It was the first time I had actually seen one in real life. I have been intrigued by these cabinets for a long time and in fact my house almost looks like a cross between a Wonder Cabinet and Nature Center.

Originally Cabinets of Curiosities as they are sometimes called were really rooms of collected objects, manmade or from the natural world that inspired or were fascinating. Some things that could be found in a Cabinet of Curiosity were objects brought back from foreign lands, art work, religious relics, tusks, feathers, skeletons, shells, minerals, and sometimes just weird things like animal deformities. My favorite name for these collections is the German “Wunderkammer” (wonder-room) because most of these objects inspire wonder and awe in me. It is those moments of awe that I seek while hiking and looking at nature, art, music, stories, and people. Fortunately we now have photos, books, cds and DVDs to capture some of those moments yet these old collections really touch my heart and become a wonder themselves.

Later some of the rooms were pared down and became cabinets as you can see in this photo. I think this eventually evolved to be the “curio cabinet” such as the one my grandmother used to display her collection of tiny jugs or maybe the ceramic dog collection of your aunt.

Ultimately the fad died out and some collections became the basis of early museums where the objects were catalogued and separated into scientific groups. The fake and suspect objects were sent to the basement or not saved at all. There is a Museum in Los Angeles call the Museum of Jurrassic Technology that I would love to visit which has some of those strange and weird things that were rejected by the respectable museums.
This is the Wonders of Nature.

Some of the collections were actually studies of one type of objects such as those collected by Thomas Mütter such as medical oddities, tumors, anatomical and pathological specimens. His collection began as a teaching tool for physicians and eventually became to the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Now you can find web pages that are virtual Wonder Cabinets that link to sites that others find interesting and inspiring.

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