see collaboration with Gretchen Heffernan

The Askew Cabinet, Pallant House Gallery , Chichester c1740

Sir John Soane

Ole Worm's Museum Leiden 1655

The Stone Museum in Florence.

Natural History Collection, Levinus Vincent Haarlem 1719

Valenti, Museum Museorum, Frankfurt 1714

Levinus Vincent's Natural History Collection haarlem 1719

Sir Ashton Lever's Museum, Leicester House c1835, British Museum

Ferrante Imperato, Historia naturale 1672



The Cabinet of Curiosities is the personal (often eccentric) arrangement of a person's collection of objects. The horizontal alligator, the recessed cupboards, stuffed animals and deep drawers with mermaids and shrunken heads are characteristic of the genre.The Cabinet was at its strongest in the seventeenth century and was gradually undermined by professional standards of curatorship. One hero is Albert Seba whose sumptuous collection is referred to below. A magnificent set of the eight volumes was sold at Sotheby's on December 4th 1997 and reproduced in their catalogue on p. 39 with a portrait of Seba as frontispiece to the catalogue.
The other giants of the Cabinet are treated by Flaubert in Bouvert et Pecuchet.




01 Seba catalogue,the frontispiece

02 portrait of Seba

03 the catalogue of the collection

04 Jacob Hoefnagel, Archetypa studiaque Patris Georgii Hoefnagelii, engravings by the son of drawings by father George published in 1592 ; each plate has a moral tag (FESTINA LENTE - make haste slowly is one).The engraving here carries the legend "I am Born. I Suffer. I Die." The choice of specimens is therefore appropriate. See Jurgis Baltrusaitis, beneath

05. typical page from Seba, an arrangement of his shells in a narrative.

The apothecary Albertus Seba formed an immense and colourful collection of selected examples of animals, vegetables and minerals. An extraordinary eight volume catalogue of the collection was published in Amsterdam from 1734 - 1765 entitled Locpletissimi Rerum Naturalium Thesauri accurata descriptio ... . Not only were Seba's categories most eccentric and highly personal, but the arrangement of the objects on the page was startling and imaginative. Ten artists were employed over a long period to prepare the etched plates.This is actually his second Cabinet - the first (much inferior) having been sold to Peter the Great of Russia.


01 The amazing Cabinet of Ferrante Imperator. From the collector's celebration of his eccentric collection in his Historia Naturale . Published in Venice in 1672.

02 This is a specimen of the surreal design properties of a book of 99 coloured plates illustrating 550 cross sections of marble, Marmora et adfines Aliquos Lapides coloribus suis , published in Nuremburg in 1775 21 x 25cms, and assembled by A.L.Wirsing. A sort of Cabinet of Curiosities this - and produced at a time when collectors assembled pebbles, stones and other samples for their patterns and narrative details - usually landscape but sometimes figurative.

03 a typical Cabinet of Curiosities or Wunderkammer from Il Museo Cospiano the catalogue of the Collection published in Bologna in 1677

see exhibition catalogue Objects for a Wunderkammer Colnaghi's London [1981]


Jurgis Baltrusaitis, ABERRATIONS, An essay on the legend of Forms, MIT Press, Cambridge Mass., 1989, see the essay on Pictorial Stones.