What is a Cabinet of Curiosities?
A curio cabinet or curiosity cabinet is a themed collection of unique items displayed together for the interest and entertainment of the viewer. Traditionally, a curiosity cabinet was not intended to serve as an archive or exhibit but rather as a private collection meant to entertain the owner and his family and friends. A modern form of this is the collector's museum.
These cabinets were displays of knowledge filled with what one considered to be delightful or unusual items. The cabinet of curiosities was popular in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. There was no scientific reasoning behind the collections. It was done simply because the "wonder" of strange, unknown specimens such as skulls, insects, and animals skins were thought to be entertaining and worth looking at.
They were initially popular in the Victorian Era but are now considered antiquated. Collections included animal, mineral, plant specimens, scientific instruments, and fossils. Some people have referred to them as Wunderkammern - German for "rooms full of wonders."
Initially, these displays were intended to offer a mere glimpse at unusual or weird artifacts to educate, but they quickly grew into more complex collections.
A cabinet of curiosities assembles rare and unusual things, sometimes found in nature and sometimes created by man. Often they are the result of years of collecting, experimentation and trade. Similarly, this site is a collection of entertaining stories, amazing facts, and unusual historical events.
One of the more famous and visited collections of curiosities is the Wunderkammer (which translates to 'Room of Wonder'), which was popular in Europe during the Middle Ages.
A Wunderkammer contained many unusual and bizarre items, ranging from preserved specimens, fossils, and animals to Gothic artworks, natural oddities, and sometimes even sacred relics. This article explores the fascinating world of cabinets of curiosities, their history, and their significance in western culture.
They were private rooms housing artifacts, unusual or unscientific items deemed beautiful examples of God's creation. But these cabinets of curiosity also serve as a reminder that we can learn fascinating things from simply looking around us with fresh eyes.
They were also known by various names such as Cabinet of Wonder and German Kunstkammer or Wunderkammer. The classic cabinet of curiosity emerged in the sixteenth century, although more rudimentary collections existed earlier. Traditionally, objects were categorized into the following groups:
- Artificialia - This category would include items that are man-made, such as works of art, archaeological artifacts, antiques, etc.
- Naturalia - This category would include natural curiosities such as two-headed animals, rogue taxidermy, mysterious creatures, etc. Sideshow gaffs were also popular items in this category.
- Exotica - This category would include rare natural specimens such as hummingbirds, rare butterflies, poisonous plants, etc.
- Scientifica - This category would include objects related to science such as medical instruments, inventions, prototypes, etc.