Cabinet of Curiosities

Cabinets of curiosities (also known as Kunstkabinett, Kunstkammer, Wunderkammer, Cabinets of Wonder, and wonder-rooms) were encyclopaedic collections of objects whose categorical boundaries were, in Renaissance Europe, yet to be defined.


Modern terminology would categorise the objects included as belonging to natural history (sometimes faked), geology, ethnography, archaeology, religious or historical relics, works of art (including cabinet paintings), and antiquities. “The Kunstkammer was regarded as a microcosm or theatre of the world and a memory theatre. The Kunstkammer conveyed symbolically the patron’s control of the world through its indoor, microscopic reproduction.” Of Charles I of England’s collection, Peter Thomas states succinctly, “The Kunstkabinett itself was a form of propaganda”. Besides the most famous best documented cabinets of rulers and aristocrats, members of the merchant class and early practitioners of science in Europe formed collections that were precursors to museums.

The term cabinet originally described a room rather than a piece of furniture. The classic cabinet of curiosities emerged in the sixteenth century, although more rudimentary collections had existed earlier.

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