Inscriptions or Titles of the Most Ample Theater That Houses Exemplary Objects and Exceptional Images of the Entire World, So That One Could Also Rightly Call It a: Repository of artificial and marvelous things, and of every rare treasure, precious object, construction, and picture. (1)
Samuel Quiccheberg, 1565
Marvels from the worlds of art, natural curiosities, and ethnographic ‘exotica’ could all be found in the Wunderkammern or cabinets of curiosities established by members of the aristocracy, (mostly) gentlemen scientists, and wealthy merchants from the mid-sixteenth century onwards. In 1587 Gabriel Kaltemarckt advised Christian I of Saxony of three indispensable categories of item needed for a Kunstkammer: firstly sculptures and paintings; secondly "curious items from home or abroad"; and thirdly "antlers, horns, claws, feathers and other things belonging to strange and curious animals.” (2)
These collections of items were regarded as a microcosm of the known (and unknown) world and became popular during Europe’s age of expansion, which saw far-off lands ‘discovered’ and science challenge religion’s iron grip on the production of knowledge. They also projected a sense of the worldliness and status of their owners and as seen in the the quotes from Quiccheberg and Kaltemarckt, promoted a world that was able to be assessed, measured, and categorised.
Drawn from the wealth of artworks in the Milford Galleries Dunedin stockroom, Wunderkammer references one of the original intentions of collectors – to bring together a variety of items in order to elicit wonder and amazement – but also considers critically (Western) society’s drive to categorise and regulate the world around it and underlying narratives of the exploitation of human cultures and the natural environment. It considers what is collected, by whom, and for what purpose. What narratives lie hidden beneath the ‘marvellous things’ on display and whose voices do they recall?
1. Full title of the Inscriptiones, a guide to collecting and classification, published in 1565 by Samuel Quiccheberg, Flemish librarian for the Fuggers, an eminent family of bankers and avid collectors, and later of Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria. http://letteraturaartistica.blogspot.co.nz/2015/11/quiccheberg.html