Cabinet of curiosities

From ArticleWorld


A Cabinet of curiosities was a forerunner of today's museums, particularly those devoted to science or natural history. In 17th century Europe it was something of a fad for the wealthy to be interested in the science and the oddities of the day, which they then collected and turned into room-size cabinets, or displays. Wonder-rooms, as they were also called, from the German Wunderkammer, contained bizarre natural formations, preserved animals, butterflies and other insects, pelts, stones, minerals, human and animal body parts, dried ferns, tinctures, flowers, and tree tree trunks and stems, among others, as well as objects believed to be mythical or fabulous creatures, or parts of them, such as a Scythian lamb. In addition to the growing 'scientific' consciousness of the day, these collections, and the craze for them, were greatly facilitated by the passion and money that was put into exploration.

Two collectors and creators of cabinets of curiosity referred to in all modern studies of the phenonmenon are Athanasius Kircher and Ole Worm, in part because they left behind documents or catalogs almost as fabulous as their collections. Ole Worm's Museum Wormianum used the objects in the collection, as well as the impetus to own them as a springboard for meditations and meanderings on all manner of subjects related to philosophy, science, the natural world, medicine, and so on.

There is one such museum today, which mixes fact with fiction, the Museum of Jurassic Technology in California, about which Lawrence Weschler wrote the book Mr. Wilson's Cabinet Of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology.