A Digital Curiosity Cabinet

Curiouser and Curiouser

Everyone collects something, whether its coins, stamps, cutlery or Elvis Presley mugs! People collect to make sense of their world and so their collections tell the story of their lives.

During the eighteenth century people collected strange and wondrous objects to display in curiosity cabinets. One of the earliest curiosity cabinets belonged to John Tradescant in South Lambeth, London. Georg Christoph Stym, a Danish traveller describes his visit to the Tradescant collection in 1638:

‘In the museum itself we saw a salamander, a chameleon, a pelican, a remora, a lanhado from Africa, a white partridge, a goose which has grown in Scotland on a tree, a flying squirrel, another squirrel like a fish, all kinds of bright colored birds from India, a number of things changed into stone, amongst others a piece of human flesh on a bone, gourds, olives, a piece of wood, an ape’s head, a cheese, etc; all kinds of shells, the hand of a mermaid, the hand of a mummy, a very natural wax hand under glass, all kinds of precious stones, coins, a picture wrought in feathers, a small piece of wood from the cross of Christ.’

Museums collect objects both to preserve the past and to bring it to life for the public. Browse this digital curiosity cabinet to find out more about awe inspiring art works, ancient artefacts and fascinating fossils.  Find out more about the intriguing characters who collected these objects. What do their collections say about them and their obsessions?

Curated by Christine Alford

cabinet of curiosities 1690s

Cabinet of Curiosities by Domenico Remps, 1690s,

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