The History of the Wunderkammer
Reflecting the Renaissance passion for exploration, German intellectuals and taste-makers paid cabinetmakers to custom-build Wunderkammer (rooms of marvels) and Kunstkammer (rooms of art), and similar structures were popular throughout Europe.
Travelers, scientists, and Renaissance men carefully collected objects representing the vast complexity of creation, showcasing their own encyclopedic knowledge of the world through their ownership of naturalia (natural oddities), artefacta (ancient objects), and scientifica (man-made instruments). Theowner of a Wunderkammer used his collection to assert dominance over the natural and human world, showcasing his intellect, experience and taste through the variety and complexity of his collection. Skeletons, insects, fossils, and bird’s nests were collected alongside works of art, scientific instruments, and ancient texts and artifacts. As the practice became popular, the emerging middle-class clamored for their own, smaller collections, and soon ready-made small cabinets of curiosities, often with secret compartments, pre-filled with curiosities, were available for purchase. Collections of this sort remained popular in the Baroque and Victorian periods.