Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge

By Eilean Hooper-Greenhill | Go to book overview

2

The first museum of Europe?

The Medici Palace: a narrative

The house was in reality the first museum of Europe and, so far as the art of Italy and Flanders of the fifteenth century is concerned, has never been equalled since, nor can it be again.

(F.H. Taylor, 1948:69)

The Medici (Riccardi) Palace in the fifteenth century was in a sense a private museum.

(Alexander, 1979:20)

Quite demonstrably…this Italian magnates’ art collecting, for which the fifteenth century Medici partly set the example, then exercised an influence on Western art itself which lasted for another three hundred years.

(Alsop, 1982:339)

These remarks demonstrate how the Medici Palace, in fifteenth-century Florence, is cited and celebrated as the identity of origin for European ‘museums’ and for European collecting practices. This complex combination of subjects, objects, spaces, and practices is our first case-study, and some of the existing evidence that describes it will be reread and reanalysed, using both the methods of ‘effective history’, and Foucault’s description of historic epistemic configurations. Will Foucault’s method reveal a new Medici Palace, a Medici Palace that can be understood in new ways?

The rereading will begin with a ‘narrative’ of the Medici Palace, which has been reconstructed from readily available sources. This will be followed in this chapter by a discussion of the broad context of thought and social action within which the Medici Palace had its existence. This broad context is external to the specific reality of the Medici Palace, but its

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Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Plates viii
  • 1 - What Is a Museum? 1
  • 2 - The First Museum of Europe? 23
  • 3 - The Palace of the Princem 47
  • 4 - The Irrational Cabinet 78
  • 5 - The ‘Cabinet of the World’ 105
  • 6 - The Repository of the Royalsociety 133
  • 7 - The Disciplinary Museum 167
  • 8 - A Useful Past for the Present 191
  • Bibliography 216
  • Index 229
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