Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rooms of Wonder: From Wunderkammer to Museum, 1599-1899


"Rooms of Wonder:  From Wunderkammer to Museum, 1599-1899"
The Grolier Club
December 5, 2012 to February 2, 2013

In the days before large public museums, private collectors gathered interesting specimens from nature. These were displayed in Wunderkammern or "Cabinets of Curiosities." Collectors included physicians, apothecaries, naturalists, and the wealthy. Many collections were recorded in prints, drawings, and paintings. Collections of Wunderkammer books such as that of Peter the Great went on to become the basis of major library collections. Some of the oddities recorded--for example, babies and adults with anatomical deformities--later inspired showmen such as P. T. Barnum to create carnival freak shows. Various books and other scarce objects collected between the 17th and 19th centuries were recently exhibited in New York at the Grolier Club.

In my more fanciful moods, I can almost imagine myself as a 17th century collector of exquisite biological specimens, cataloguing a scholarly and beautiful Wunderkammer that could one day form the basis of a natural history museum. Then I remember I most likely would have been an impoverished peasant unable to afford even a stuffed crocodile to suspend from the ceiling.

The show "Rooms of Wonder, from Wunderkammer to Museum, 1599-1899" ran from December 5, 2012 to February 2, 2013. Let's look at a few choice objects from the display in honor of National Library Week, as if we needed an excuse.

Albert Seba, Crocodile (hand colored)
 Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata description, 
Vols. I and II (Amsterdam 1734 and 1758)
Collection of the George Peabody Library of the Sheridan Library Special Collections,
Johns Hopkins University.

The crododile is displayed on the exhibition poster and on the catalogue. The catalogue is available for $25.
Rooms of Wonder Catalogue
The Grolier Club


Here is the Grolier Club's press release:
"Rooms of Wonder From Wunderkammer to Museum, 1599-1899," Press Release, Page 1

"Rooms of Wonder From Wunderkammer to Museum, 1599-1899," Press Release, Page 2

"Rooms of Wonder:  From Wunderkammer to Museum, 1599-1899,"
Introductory Wall Text

Albert Seba, Snakes (hand colored)
Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata description, 
Vols. I and II (Amsterdam 1734 and 1758)
Collection of the George Peabody Library of the Sheridan Library Special Collections,
Johns Hopkins University.


Albert Seba, Crocodile (hand colored)
 Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata description, 
Vols. I and II (Amsterdam 1734 and 1758)
Collection of the George Peabody Library of the Sheridan Library Special Collections,
Johns Hopkins University.



Albert Seba, Blowfish, Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio
[A collection of natural history objects, accurately and richly described] Volume 1 (Amsterdam, 1734)




Albert Seba, Engraved Portrait, (Amsterdam, 1731)



Martin Frobenius Ledermüller, Subscription Prospectus with Hand-Colored Engraved Plate of Two Flying Squirrels (Nuremberg, 1762)

Pedro Francisco Dávila, Catalogue Systématique et raisonné  des Curiosités (Paris, 1767)




George Bennet, 4th Earl of Tankerville, A Catalogue of the Shells Contained in the Collection of the Late Earl of Tankerville (London, 1825)

Johann Daniel Schumacher, Palaty Sanktpeterburgskoi imperatorskoi Akademii nauyk Biblioteki i Kunstkamery kotorykh predstavleny plany
[Chambers of the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Sciences Library and Gallery] (St. Petersburg, 1741)
Lent by the Houghton Library, Harvard University 




Johann Samuel Schröter, Musei Gottwaldiani (Nuremberg, 1782)
Johann Samuel Schröter, Musei Gottwaldiani (Nuremberg, 1782), Bowl Made from a Cut and Incised Nautilus Shell

Jacob de Wilde, Signa antiqua e musaeo Jacobi de Wilde, Copy 1 (Amsterdam, 1700)

Jan van Rymsdyk, Museum Britannicum (London, 1791)



Ferrante Imperato, Frontispiece to Dell'Historia Naturale (Naples, 1599)



Basilius Besler, Continuatio rariorum et aspectu dignorum varii generis,
 Engraved title page (Nuremberg, 1622)
Collection of Florence Fearrington.

Nehemiah Grew, Musaeum Regalis Societatis (London, 1681)


Mauro Soldo, Exercise Machine, 1766


Tower of London:  A New History and Description of the Tower of London (London, 1810)

George Shaw, Museum Leverianum (London, 1792)
The museum of Sir Ashton Lever (1729-1788)



George Shaw, Museum Leverianum (London, 1792)
The museum of Sir Ashton Lever (1729-1788)


William Bullock, Print of Bullock's London Museum

Thomas Joseph Pettigrew, History of Egyptian Mummies (London, 1834)
after George Cruikshank

Paulinus a Sancto Bartholomaeo, Mumiographia Musei Obiciani (Padua, 1799)


John Collins Warren, A Description of an Egyptian Mummy (Boston, 1824)

Frederik Ruysch, Opera Omnia, Volumes II and III (Amsterdam, 1739)


Michael Bernhard Valentini, Museum Museorum (1714)


Frederik Ruysch, Observationum anatomico-chirurgicarum (Amsterdam. 1691)

Frederik Ruysch, Thesaurus Anatomicus Primus

Frederik Ruysch, Thesaurus Anatomicus Primus

John Barnard Swett Jackson, M.D., A Descriptive Catalogue of the Anatomical Museum (Boston, 1847)

Madame Tussaud, The Napoleon Museum (London, c. 1843)

New York Tribune, July 14, 1865, "Great Conflagration. Barnum's Museum in Ashes."
P. T. Barnum's Fiji Cannibals
The Rhinoceros, Advertising Card for P. T. Barnum's Travelling World's Fair (New York, 1874)

The Rhinoceros, Advertising Card for P. T. Barnum's Travelling World's Fair (New York, 1874)



Emil Seitz after Thomas Benecke, Sleighing in New York (New York, 1855)
Depicting P. T. Barnum and Jenny Lind
Lent by the American Antiquarian Society

May 4, 2013 Update:  An album of thirteen photos from the show at the Grolier Club taken by Gregor J. Rothfuss is posted here.

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