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EDU BLOG

What are wunderkammers?

Sat Jun 12, 2021

Wunderkammers, by definition, are “a place where a collection of curiosities and rarities is exhibited,” also known as “wonder chamber” or “cabinet of curiosity” (Oxford Dictionary). The term is German, and in simple words, refers to a collection of various objects and rarities, often including things from historical relics and scientific items to handmade art. A wunderkammer can be a variety of things- such as a highly decorated bookshelf to an entire room dedicated to the display of paintings and sculptures. Popularity of the wunderkammer rose during the sixteenth century in Europe, and many of the works during this time paid special interest in human anatomy, monsters, and human creation. Pictured below is an illustration of a wunderkammer entitled “Room of Curiosities” by Ferrante Imperato, which displays the traditional dark curiosities of what wunderkammers are (Dell’Historia Natvrale).

Dan Estabrook. Cornucopia, 2019. Cut tintypes and copper. Photo: Rick Rhodes.

Dan Estabrook’s Wunderkammer, on display within the Halsey until July 17th, reflects the true meaning of the wunderkammer, while adding his own twist on the way it is displayed. Most of his work, framed or sculpture, is in black and white and pays special attention to hands, arms, feet, and other parts of the human body, including skulls. Additionally, Estabrook highlights many objects, such as knives, clothing items with extra arms, and seemingly burned planet models, playing into the mysterious and peculiar atmosphere. Typically, wunderkammers relate to maximalism, and fill up any spare room from ceiling to floor in the area it is displayed. Estabrook’s exhibit, however, is more spread out- while it fills the entire room, the pieces do have plenty of space between them. Though his display of his artwork is not as clustered and crammed together as traditional wunderkammers may be, his work plays on the unique curiosities and oddities that wunderkammers exhibit.

-by Carsyn Cantey, Halsey Institute intern

Sources

Ferrante Imperato, Room of Curiosities, 1559, Naples, Italy, Source: Imperato’s Dell’Historia Natvrale

“WUNDERKAMMER: Definition of WUNDERKAMMER by Oxford Dictionary on Lexico.com Also Meaning of WUNDERKAMMER.” Lexico Dictionaries | English, Lexico Dictionaries, www.lexico.com/en/definition/wunderkammer.


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