Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge

By Eilean Hooper-Greenhill | Go to book overview

5

The ‘cabinet of the world’

Networks and prototypes

During the 1570s in Florence a prototype for the ‘cabinet of the world’ emerged. Although this particular cabinet existed for approximately twenty years only (Olmi, 1985:10), it seems to have had the status of exemplar (Bostrom, 1985:99; Scheicher, 1985:31; Olmi, 1985:7; Kaufmann, 1978:24). The studiolo of Francesco I (1541-87) was an attempt to gather together artefacts that represented the order of the world, to constitute a secret site in and from which the prince could position himself symbolically as ruler of that world. It further operated as a microcosm of art and nature, articulating their relationships to the elements, the humours, and the seasons as presented in mythology, literature, history, and contemporary technology (Rinehart, 1981:276). The room itself was secret. It is never referred to in the sixteenth-century inventories of the palace (ibid.: 278).

The elaborate scheme of decoration is explained by Vincenzo Borghini in his correspondence with Giorgio Vasari. It was drawn up in about 1572 by various members of the Accademia del Disegno and consisted of a design whereby all matter within the hierarchy of the cosmos and all works of art formed of this material complemented each other in a harmonious unity. The studiolo bears a striking conceptual resemblance to the Memory Theatre of Camillo (Yates, 1966:139). References to the Theatre of Camillo have recently been suggested (Olmi, 1985:7) but details have not been published in English.

The studiolo was a small room without windows, resembling closely the interior of a large cupboard (Scheicher, 1985:31). Camillo’s Theatre was ‘at least big enough for two people’. Windows are not mentioned in connection with this space, which seems to have been erected as an internal space within a room. Within the studiolo were cupboards, with the contents of each cupboard shown in their appointed place within the

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