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The Wormianum Museum of Ole Worm , 17th century

The Chambers of Wonder , Art Chambers or Art Cabinets of the late Renaissance and Baroque periods emerged from the earlier rarities or curiosity cabinets ( Panoptika ) and describe a collection concept from the early phase of museum history that presented objects in their different origins and purposes together. In the course of the 19th century, the art and curiosity chambers were replaced by the specialized museums customary today, especially the natural history collections with their scientific demands, or some of them were absorbed into them.

The terminus technicus Kunst- und Wunderkammer , first identified in the Zimmerische Chronik (1564–1566), was naturalized by Julius von Schlosser's work The Kunst- und Wunderkammer der Late Renaissance (Leipzig 1908) and is also used in English. In addition to the universal art and wonder chambers, there are also pure art collections ( art cabinets ) or pure natural history cabinets .


The handover of the Pomeranian art cabinet to Duke Philipp II of Pomerania , painting by Anton Mozart , around 1617

Since the 14th century, representative collections of princes and wealthy citizens have been created in Europe who did not separate natural objects from artefacts or art from handicrafts. It contained objects as diverse as silver and goldsmith work using corals , pearls and rock crystals , animal specimens, large mussels, nautilus cups , set ostrich eggs, narwhal teeth as the horns of the unicorn, ivory carvings , literature on alchemy , mathematical-physical or surgical instruments, optical and mirror effects (→ later mirror and laughter cabinets ), so-called art clocks or slot machines , astrolabes , earth and celestial globes , rare glasses, East Asian porcelain , trifles such as carved cherry stones or miniature art turning shops .

The focus of interest was a fascination for rarities and curiosities , some of which arose from medieval folklore, humanistic revival of ancient legends and technical and scientific innovations. In connection with this, there is also talk of an age of wonder . A parallel development was also evident in the curiosity anthologies of authors such as Athanasius Kircher and Erasmus Finx .

Another drive for the creation of the expensive collections was often purely the possibility of a show of power for the princes. In the systematics of the collections, therefore, the striving for mastery knowledge was often expressed . Significantly, under the term artificialia (artificially created objects of particular beauty and sophistication), the princely collections also included weapons, war technology and a representation of possessions. The collection owners demonstrated skills in mastering the basic collection plan - developed by themselves. This can also be seen as an attempt to indirectly justify general claims to power over their environment. They often presented their view of the world and control of their environment in it. The display of worldly power and splendor was embedded in a tailored, programmatic aesthetic:

“Here things found their place and were anchored in the consciousness and memory of the owner and initiator (the inventor) as well as his visitors. At the same time the position of power of noble hosts was manifested. ”Quote from Gisela Luther.

It is not generally valid to say what the intentions of princely inventors of the Renaissance and the Baroque era in running a cabinet of curiosities were. Whether they instrumentalized the facilities solely as a plastic-theatrical staging of a hermetic worldview or their social distinction for their purposes or whether the focus was on gaining knowledge in the sense of progress remains open. So far there has been a lack of research results on how many of the numerous wealthy collection initiators were in direct intellectual exchange with learned bourgeois collectors and artists - beyond a prestigious patronage. The studies indicate, however, that an inter-class dialogue was increasingly pursued at the smaller royal courts that had important libraries instead of magnificent universal collections.

The term Kunst- und Wunderkammer, used for these collections, refers to both the wonder of what is viewed and the astonishment of the beholder, rather than the "wondrous", i.e. H. the “supernatural”. The decisive impetus for the collections were the expeditions of the 15th to 17th centuries. Century, especially the epochal encounter with the radical otherness of America. The (world) sphere became the code for these collections; the collector and museologist Johann Daniel Major strove for the "discovery of the apple-round circle of the whole world".

Collection character

Hendrick van der Borcht (the elder) : collection of rarities, first half of the 16th century

The purpose of the collections was to show the universal context of all things, with the aim of conveying a worldview in which history, art, nature and science were fused into one unit. In contrast to the scholasticism of the High and Late Middle Ages, which covered all areas of knowledge from an abstract point of view, the Wunderkammer meant knowledge from a diverse range of perspectives and thus the departure from the speculative method based on Aristotle .

An essential element of many chambers of art and curiosity was to show the entire cosmic-divine order of the world and thus the beginning and end of a God-determined development. However, chambers of art and curiosities soon also emerged in areas in which the church was no longer the central authority. In reformed countries the first bourgeois art and wonder chambers emerged at the same time as the princely ones. Cities such as Copenhagen , Nuremberg , where the Nuremberg citizen's son, hospital and city doctor and astronomer Melchior Ayrer (1520–1579) made a name for himself, among other things, as the founder of an art gallery continued by his son Julius and his nephew Hans Egidy scattered again by his heirs after 1690) and Basel became centers of collecting and trading in art objects. The Kircherianum Museum, established in Rome's Collegium Romanum in 1651, was probably the first chamber of art and curiosities that also served for teaching purposes. During the heyday of the Chambers of Wonder , guides from the Baroque era often also gave recommendations on the collections of a city.

The collectors mostly used a relatively flexible system of terms (often with the division of collection objects into Naturalia, Artificalia, Antiquitates, Exotica, Mirabilia and Scientifica ), and they demonstrated their ability to classify themselves with the catalogs they wrote and sometimes printed. Samuel Quiccheberg , who is considered to be the founder of museology , created a system that assigned all areas of the collection to the seven wandering stars of the geocentric world view (sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn). The idea of ​​a complete museum complex also included a library, printer, pharmacy, laboratory and garden. As the actual compression of the aesthetics of art and curiosities that apply art cabinets that served for storage of items in the collection, but in turn were collection object; Hidden drawers and ornamentation laden with symbols invited one to wonder, that is, to search and interpret. In the ideal microcosms of the literature of the time, such as Thomas More 's Utopia (1516) or Francis Bacon's Nova Atlantis (1626), one can recognize literary models of chambers of curiosities.

Dissolution and survival of the art and wonder chambers

The owners often endeavor to secure the continuation of their collections, be it through a will or a foundation; Princely collections often survived in the form of state treasures ( Grünes Gewölbe in Dresden, Ambras Castle in Innsbruck ), but most of the private collections of educated citizens were dispersed or dissolved over time. From 1661/62 onwards , the Basler Amerbachkabinett became the foundation of the city's public museum collections.

Since the beginning of the Enlightenment , the Chambers of Wonder have been under increasing legitimation pressure , because they were no longer a driving cultural force. In terms of the history of science, the Chambers of Wonder had achieved an enormous amount in developing the research disciplines and delimiting them from one another. However , they were no longer able to meet the new standards of value of skepticism , rationality and specialization and were consequently replaced by the museums, which were divided into branches. As early as 1649, René Descartes had recorded in his book The Passions of the Soul that too much astonishment could be negative, as it prevents or perverts the use of the mind. At the end of the 18th century, the Chambers of Wonder looked almost like pre-scientific and absurd relics of a bygone era, which in the worst case were even insulted as "a lot of useless junk" ( Georg Christoph Lichtenberg ).

Today chambers of curiosities themselves are objects of museum observation: the art and natural history chambers of the Francke Foundations in Halle (Saale) show the reconstructed originals of such a chamber of curiosities; The Hamburg Museum of Arts and Crafts also has a chamber of art and curiosities . At the Trausnitz Castle in Landshut , the collections of Albrecht V and Wilhelm the Pious can be seen in the restored Damenstock since September 2004 in the Trausnitz Castle Chamber of Art and Curiosities as a new branch museum of the Bavarian National Museum. The Basel Historical Museum has been showing a new staging of his art chamber, which emerged from civil collections, since 2011 .


The chambers of curiosities had a reputation for unscientific hodgepodge until well into the 20th century, to which epigonal phenomena closely related to circus and freak shows such as the American Museum of PT Barnum and the Odditorium of Robert Ripley had contributed quite a bit. Relationships between art and nature have only been shown in individual cases (for example in Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur , 1899–1904). Although the works by David Murray ( Museums , Glasgow 1904) and Julius von Schlosser, which are now considered standard works, gave an initial overview at the beginning of the 20th century, this was still based strongly on the curiosity of the collections. They owe their rehabilitation on the one hand to the studies of the 1980s and 1990s on the conceptions of the Chambers of Wonder and the complex values ​​of their owners, on the other hand to a postmodern interest in affects and how these affect art and science (see, for example, Museum of Jurassic Technology ). The increasing character of museum exhibition practices as a “sensation” or “sensual experience” shows a closeness to the motivation of amazement and wonder that were characteristic of the Chambers of Wonder.

The influential publisher and advocate of the Iconic Turn, Hubert Burda , basically sees the Chambers of Wonder as an attempt to collect objects and articles that normally cannot be seen or found in the environment. It could be concluded from this that he who can dispose of these things himself has a great influence on this very world. The chambers of curiosities were initially created by the princes and then - according to his thesis - were included in the scientific collections from 1800 and are named among other things by the British Museum . He sees the Charité as a medical cabinet of curiosities. The installation - a cabinet of curiosities as an oversized shelf, as it were - illustrates, according to his point of view, systematics and excerpts of scientific work. From the middle of the 19th century, the newly created world exhibitions formed the great chambers of curiosities of their time. He sees the first world exhibition in London's Crystal Palace (1851) as an example . Accordingly, the Sears catalog (from 1894 on) finally manifested the economic principle of the cabinet of curiosities later in the mail order catalog . The central medium for addressing them, as it were in a cabinet of curiosities, would be the mail-order catalogs. However, with the advent of the Internet, catalogs have lost their relevance in this regard. According to Burda, the Internet can be seen as something like an up-to-date version of a cabinet of curiosities.

Selection of preserved art and wonder chambers

Exhibition of the Chamber of Art and Curiosities at Trausnitz Castle


  • The Chamber of Art and Curiosities Duke Albrecht V (1528–1579) in Munich . From around 1568 it was mainly on the 2nd floor of the Marstall building, which was built for this purpose from 1563, and was primarily used for representation purposes. Parts of this collection can now be seen in very freely reconstructed form at Trausnitz Castle in Landshut .
  • The Kunstkammer of Elector August von Sachsen in the Dresden Residenzschloss, institutionalized in 1572 with the appointment of an official . In the early 18th century, the collection was largely divided into special collections, in which many objects can still be seen in the Green Vault today as part of the Dresden State Art Collections . The permanent exhibition Worldview and Knowledge around 1600 , which opened in 2016, brings together other important parts of the collection from this period.
  • The Kunstkammer, founded in Friedenstein Castle ( Gotha ) in the second half of the 17th century , large holdings of which can still be seen in the Castle Museum today
  • The art and natural history chamber of the Francke Foundations was established in 1698 when the foundations were established and has been in the historic orphanage since 1701. It is considered to be the oldest Baroque art and natural history chamber that has largely been preserved to this day.
  • The Natural History Cabinet Waldenburg (Saxony), founded in 1840 by Prince Otto Victor I von Schönburg -Waldenburg (1785–1859), contains extensive holdings of the Linckianum Museum (approx. 1670–1800) of the Linck family of pharmacists from Leipzig.
  • The natural history cabinet of the Natural History Museum Bamberg , founded in 1792. The extended collections are located in the room from 1810, which was extensively restored in 2010.
  • The chamber of art and curiosities of Jacob von Melle (1659–1743) is located in the St. Annen Museum Quarter in Lübeck.
  • In 2015, the Passau State Library opened the reconstructed Wunderkammer of the former Passau Jesuit College in its historical premises. The company's own holdings were supplemented by significant loans from Bavarian state collections.


  • The Kunstkammer of the Vienna Hofburg of the future Emperor Ferdinand I is the first museum building north of the Alps. It was built between 1558 and 1563; today only the foundations are left.
  • The Kunst- und Wunderkammer of Schloss Ambras in Innsbruck: Archduke Ferdinand II. (1529–1595) created this precious collection. It is housed in one of the earliest museum buildings in history, the lower castle, which was built especially for this purpose from 1570 and which was already known by name as the "museum". This museum building is the only one still preserved from the Renaissance, in which the collections are still exhibited today.
  • The Kunst- und Wunderkammer in Salzburg was laid out by Archbishop Guidobald von Thun and his successor Max Gandolf von Kuenburg . This collection can now be seen in reconstructed form in the Cathedral Museum in Salzburg .
  • The Esterházy family's chamber of art and curiosities at Forchtenstein Castle (Burgenland). "I have some rarities in mine, as they usually say: Cabinetum or Kunstcamer ..." is how Paul I, Prince Esterházy, describes the treasury at Forchtenstein Castle in his will (1685) .



  • Cabinet of curiosities in the Tropical Museum in Amsterdam. A very free reconstruction of a baroque production.


Johann Georg Hinz : Cabinet of treasures, 1666

Jean de Labrune described the cabinet of curiosities of the Basel collector Remigius Faesch in 1686 (translation):

“Opposite the armory is the house of Mr. Faesch, from whose cabinet you hear so much. We saw this cabinet several times. It would take a whole letter if you wanted to know it in detail; please spare us that. We will only give a summary of it. So we're not talking about the books, nor about the paintings, the medals, the maps, the steel engravings, the thousand other things of this kind that fill two or three rooms. That would lead too far. You will have to be satisfied with a few pieces that we put in front of you.

You can see all the kings of France in wax, from Pharamond to Louis XIV. There are metal mirrors with overwhelming decorations, tear vials, mummies, skeletons and a thousand birds that you have never seen before and of which you don't even know the name. Just imagine what curiosities one can have in a cabinet: all of that is in Mr. Faesch's. They took the trouble to collect even the smallest coin that is in circulation abroad. Here we were shown one of the Goldecus that Ludwig XII. stamped. […] You can see everything up to boxes, trumpets and knives from China, arrows and bows from the Tatars and thousands of other small, astonishing things that come from the most distant countries.

We noticed, among other things, a small piece of wood or an extremely thin bowl on which some letters in the script of the Christians from Kerala are written - they would have trouble with it. There are busts of the greatest masters, ancient statues, stones with inscriptions, every kind of mathematical instrument, turned pieces, which, as you can see, are the most beautiful mussel shells, valuable stones of all kinds, countless alabaster works, several of these pepperbirds, whose beak is the same size like the body, some of those Irish scoter growing from a fruit that has fallen into the sea, if the tales are to be believed, and several birds of paradise: but we noticed that they have feet and the taxidermists are playing tricks on us. "


  • Gabriele Beßler: Chambers of Wonder - world models from the Renaissance to contemporary art. 2nd, slightly changed edition. Reimer, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-496-01450-8 .
  • E. Bergvelt, R. Kistemaker: De wereld inside handbereik. Nederlandse kunst- en rariteitenverzamlingen, 1585–1735. 2 vols., Amsterdams Historisch Museum , Amsterdam 1992.
  • Horst Bredekamp : Longing for antiquity and belief in machines. The history of the Kunstkammer and the future of art history . (= Wagenbach's pocket book, vol. 361). Wagenbach, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-8031-2361-5 .
  • Horst Bredekamp, ​​Jochen Brüning, Cornelia Weber (eds.): Theater of nature and art: Chambers of curiosities of knowledge; an exhibition at the Humboldt University in Berlin; December 10, 2000 to March 4, 2001, Martin-Gropius-Bau. Berlin 2000.
  • Lorraine Daston , Katharine Park: Miracles and the Order of Nature 1150–1750. Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-8218-1633-3 .
  • Peter Frieß , Eva Langenstein (arrangement): Mechanics from the Wunderkammer. The forerunners of the computer. Exhibition catalog Deutsches Museum Bonn, Munich 1996.
  • Andreas Grote (Ed.): Macrocosmos in Microcosmo. The world in the room. On the history of collecting 1450 to 1800 (= Berlin writings on museum studies, volume 10). VS Verlag, Opladen 1994, ISBN 978-3-663-10698-2 .
  • Remigius Faesch, André Salvisberg : The Faesch Museum - A Basel art and rarity collection from the 17th century. Basel 2005, ISBN 3-85616-229-1 .
  • Historisches Museum Basel (Ed.): The Great Art Chamber. Civil collections and collectors in Basel. Basel 2011.
  • Oliver Impey, Arthur MacGregor (Eds.): The Origins of Museums. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1985.
  • Art and exhibition hall of the Federal Republic of Germany (Ed.): Wunderkammer des Abendlands. Museum and collection as reflected in the times. Bonn 1995.
  • Johann Daniel Major: Unpredictable covering of art and natural objects in common. Reuman, Kiel approx. 1674 ( digitized )
  • Patrick Mauriès : The cabinet of curiosities. DuMont, Cologne 2011, ISBN 978-3-8321-9406-2 .
  • Klaus Minges: The Collection of the Early Modern Age. Criteria of order and specialization. (= Museums - Past and Present Vol. 3). Lit, Münster 1998, ISBN 3-8258-3607-X .
  • Thomas Müller-Bahlke : The Chamber of Wonder. The art and natural history chamber of the Francke Foundations in Halle (Saale). 1998, ISBN 3-930195-39-9 .
  • Dieter Pfister : The Chamber of Art and Curiosities in practice and theory. Aspects of Mannerist Universal Collection, Basel 1982.
  • Krzysztof Pomian : The Origin of the Museum. From collecting. (= Wagenbachs Taschenbuch vol. 302), Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-8031-2302-X .
  • Claudia Rütsche: The Kunstkammer in the Zurich Wasserkirche: public collecting activity of a learned citizenry in the 17th and 18th centuries from a museum-historical point of view. Bern 1997.
  • Helmar Schramm et al. (Ed.): Kunstkammer, laboratory, stage. Places of knowledge in the 17th century. Berlin / New York 2003, ISBN 3-11-017737-4 .
  • Steffen Siegel: The 'gantz accurate' Kunstkammer. Visual construction and standardization of a representation room in the early modern period . In: Horst Bredekamp, ​​Pablo Schneider (Ed.): Visuelle Argumentationen. The mysteries of representation and the predictability of the world. Wilhelm Fink Verlag, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-7705-4113-8 , pp. 157-182.


  • The Renaissance Chamber of Art and Curiosities. (OT: . La chambre des merveilles ) Documentary, France, 2018, 52:02 Min, written and directed. Frédérique scepter production: Arte France, Filmica Production, Mymax edutainment, first broadcast: September 23, 2018 in arte, Summary of arte, with a film clip.

Web links

Commons : Wunderkammer  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Wunderkammer  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. Count Froben Christoph von Zimmer : Zimmerische Chronik (manuscript, created 1564–1566)
  2. Julius von Schlosser: The art and wonder chambers of the late Renaissance. A contribution to the history of collecting. Leipzig 1908.
  3. Gabriele Beßler, Chambers of Wonder - World Models from the Renaissance to Contemporary Art , Dietrich Reimer Verlag, Berlin 2009, p. 15.
  4. ^ Gabriele Beßler: Chambers of Art and Curiosities. In: European History Online (EGO), ed. from the Leibniz Institute for European History (IEG), July 9, 2015.
  5. Galileo Galilei said: "In the natural sciences, the conclusions of which are true and necessary, [...] 1000 Aristotle cannot, in spite of the matter, make true what is wrong."
  6. As a passage from the Bible, reference could be made to Psalm 24: 1–2: The earth is the Lord's and what is in it, the world and those who live on it. For he founded it over the seas and prepared it over the waters.
  7. Doris Wolfangel: Dr. Melchior Ayrer (1520-1579). Medical dissertation Würzburg 1957, pp. 1–4, 37–39 ( Die Ayrersche Kunstkammer ) and 50.
  8. Cf. for example Annette Schommers: The art cabinet of Duke Maximilian I of Bavaria for the Emperor of China. In: Christoph Emmendörffer, Christof Trepesch (Hrsg.): Die Wunderwelt. The Pomeranian Art Cabinet. Exhibition catalog Maximiliansmuseum Augsburg, Berlin 2014, pp. 96–115.
  9. Hubert Burda : The Internet: The new cabinet of curiosities. In: Huffington Post , December 23, 2016, excerpt from: Digital Horizons - Strategies for New Media , Petrarca Verlag, Munich 2016, ISBN 978-3-87115-098-2 .
  10. ^ Forchtenstein Castle. The Esterházy treasury. The Esterházy family's chamber of art and curiosities. In: esterhazy.at .
  11. Reboulet et Labrune. Voyage de Suisse ou Relation historique, contenue en douze lettres, écrites par les Sieurs Reboulet et Labrune à un de leurs amis en France. The Hague 1686.