Exhibition curator : Antonio Nardone
The story of the curiosity cabinet can be traced back to the pharmacists and people of culture living in all four corners of Europe in the midst of the 16th century. These learned people were eager to build up huge collections of rare or curious objects evoking images of uncharted territories.
These collections of objects are akin to the treasures to be found in temples dating back to ancient times or churches built in the middle ages. Booties plundered in far-off lands or the relics of saints offering evidence of other worlds, representing a symbolic and political capital of great importance.
Curiosity cabinets act as a showcase for the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms, while incidentally holding a mirror up to human achievements. The pharmacist Ferrante Imperato published a catalogue of his collection in Naples back in 1599. His ‘Dell’historia natural’ featured all manner of items, including salamanders, crocodiles, books and remains, often offering interpretations that are surprisingly accurate and astoundingly wrong in equal measure, such as: “a genuine unicorn horn, a jar of dragon's blood.” After all, once the scientific and intellectual arguments had been disposed of, whatever justification could there be for creating curiosity cabinets, apart from creating a dream world from authentic objects collected on markets and conjuring up unfamiliar worlds?
Over the centuries, the curiosity cabinet has set about revealing tenuous links, key relationships, between remote realities and kingdoms symbolised by hybrids. Accordingly, the collector provides the layperson with a true revelation, an environment for showcasing the secrets of reality. Athanase Kircher, a German Jesuit scholar from the 17th century, who spent most of his life in Rome at the Roman College of the Society of Jesus, was hailed as one of the greatest scholars of his age. The following was painted on the ceiling of his museum: “Whosoever recognises the chain linking the underworld to the overworld shall discover the mysteries of nature and create miracles!”
Curiosity cabinets strive to develop a consistent understanding of the world inherited from ancient times, while heralding the contemporary era. They also offer opportunities for the development of ingenious thinking committed to enchantingly outstanding traditions.
The aim is not necessarily to collect and list objects in the manner of the 18th century encyclopaedists, but in fact to reveal the innermost secrets of Nature in all its fantastic glory.
The Wunderkammer exhibition is fittingly focused on the links between nature and creative activity, discoveries and a new espousal of nature. The collection of works on display, as though in a cabinet, is attuned to the noble principles of unity linking together all manner of things. At the centre of our occupations, contemporary artists tap into an inexhaustible reserve of shapes and colours, materials and objects, furthering their development in the light of achievements that are both unique and part of our heritage. Tattooed skulls, animals stuffed and stretched, human bones wound with red threads as a fine emblem of the relationship between artificialia and naturalia. They might not always be aware of the fact, but these artists are part and parcel of the continuing nature of the history of curiosity. These authentic works are collected together wunderkammer-style, and the same is obviously true of the accompanying texts - everything is true, humankind says so!