Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge

By Eilean Hooper-Greenhill | Go to book overview

4

The irrational cabinet

First, the collecting of a most perfect and general library, wherein whosoever the wit of man hath heretofore committed to books of worth…may be made contributory to your wisdom. Next, a spacious, wonderful garden, wherein whatsoever plant the sun of divers climate, or the earth out of divers moulds, either wild or by the culture of man brought forth, may be…set and cherished: this garden to be built about with rooms to stable in all rare beasts and to cage in all rare birds; with two lakes adjoining, the one of fresh water the other of salt, for like variety of fishes. And so you have in small compass a model of the universal nature made private. The third, a goodly huge cabinet, wherein whatsoever the hand of man by exquisite art or engine has made rare in stuff, form or motion; whatsoever singularity, chance, and the shuffle of things hath produced; whatsoever Nature has wrought in things that want life and may be kept; shall be sorted and included. The fourth such a still-house, so furnished with mills, instruments, furnaces, and vessels as may be a palace fit for a philosopher’s stone.

Francis Bacon, Gesta Grayorum (1594) (quoted in Impey and MacGregor, 1985:1)

By the end of the sixteenth century, collections and ‘museums’ had become fairly commonplace in Europe. Although these were often substantially different in practice, all had a single objective, that of producing a ‘cabinet’, a model of ‘universal nature made private’. These ‘museums’ were organised in a variety of ways but, in each, spaces and individual subjects had the function of bringing together a number of material things and arranging them in such a way as to represent or recall either an entire or a partial world picture. These representational systems, these ‘museums’, emerged over a period of less than a century across a wide geographical and social field. The nature and identity of each system came about through the relationships and interactions of the various constitutive elements.

-78-

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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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