Many of today’s most notable collections, such as the British Museum started off as wunderkammer, or cabinets of curiosities. These started in the 16th century are were somewhere between Ripley’s Believe it or Not and the Smithsonian, eclectic collections of man-made and natural objects of wonder. These were either rooms or spectacular intricate cabinets.
Today there are deliberate attempts to re-create the very particular feel of these collections, such as at the Museum of Jurassic Technology in L.A, which combines the real and fake or the British Museum’s Enlightenment Gallery.
The origins of the British Museum were as a wunderkammer. To acknowledge this, the 2003 opening of the Enlightenment gallery tries to recapture some of the eclectic spirit of an 18th century museum, with rocks and shells along with artworks and man made objects.
These were cabinet sized museums first conceived by the merchant-prince and diplomat Philipp Hainhofer which are the forerunners to today’s cabinets of curiosity. Shown here is the most famous of these cabinets, produced between 1625 and 1631 and presented to the Swedish King Gustav II Adolf.