Introducing Jetlagjane’s Wunderkammer
What is a Wunderkammer?
Wunderkammer literally translates from German as ‘A Room of Wonder.’
In English it is usually referred to as a ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’.
It is, quite simply, a notable collection of objects; a carefully curated cumulation of curiosities.
A Wunderkammer can be as small as a cigar box or as large as an actual cabinet. (The term cabinet originally described a room rather than a piece of furniture.)
In my own definition of Wunderkammer, each item has its own story to tell, and I also have a story to tell.
I was inspired by the wonderful Carole Favre, who has a YouTube show called “Travels Around my Bedroom”, where she finds an interesting item from her travels and tells its story for us!
A souvenir (from French, meaning “a remembrance or memory”), is a memento, keepsake, or token of remembrance. It is is an object a person acquires for the memories the owner associates with it. This could be a reminder of a place, a time or a person.
Items that spark a sense of wonder; evoke a memory; a keeper of stories.
These items form your Wunderkammer.
I have been to many lovely places and some of my adventures were before the mass digital age. Gasp I know- sometimes I had to wait to get home to tell my stories and show off my photos. Sometimes I went to places and didn’t have enough money to buy films or get them developed. Sometimes I took no photos at all! Little souvenirs, postcards, ticket stubs and the odd recurring medical condition tell the stories of my earlier travels.
History of the Wunderkammer
The idea of a Wunderkammer took hold in the sixteenth century in the princely courts of Europe. It was no longer enough simply to show off one’s wealth; every object should also enhance the ‘virtues of the prince’.
In Inscriptiones vel tituli theatre amplissimi (1565), Samuel Quiccheberg detailed the ideal formula for the Wunderkammer as including naturalia (items created by the earth and items drawn from nature),mirabilia (unusual natural phenomena), artificialia (items wrought by man), ethnographica (items from the wider world), scientifica (items that brought a great understanding of the universe) and artefacta (items relating to history). I am sure Mr Quiccheberg would be horrified to realise his formula can now include teaspoons, snowglobes and fridge magnets.
The objects in a Wunderkammer are supposed to not only evoke curiosity and wonder, but also act as witnesses to history. To organize and juxtapose these objects within a Wunderkammer captures a hidden truth of the world itself, and represents the way you see your own past.
It is like having a tiny museum dedicated to yourself.
A notable Wunderkammer from history: Caroline of Ansbach
A lovely example of the Wunderkammer comes from Caroline of Ansbach (1683–1737), consort of George II (1683–1760). An educated and enlightened figure, Caroline grew up in the courts of Berlin and Dresden. She would have been familiar with the Wunderkammer tradition. Items in her closet rooms at Kensington Palace included a stuffed hummingbird, a ‘unicorn horn’ (narwhal), bezoar stones (found in the stomach of a goat and believed to have protective properties), an ivory box of gold dust, Turkish daggers, a portable brass sundial and cameos.
Caroline was a super interesting and intelligent woman- as I was writing this blog I fell down an internet rabbit hole reading about her. This article in the New Statesman is a good start if you are a history nerd like me.
In the late 18th century the Wunderkammer went out of fashion, to be replaced by the modern museum. The new ideas of the Enlightenment, reason, orderliness, systems, and science replaced the traditional eclectic tradition of simply collecting things that you thought were interesting.
Modern museums are just big Wunderkammer, curated by either the owner of the collection with their own story to tell, or as a public space to celebrate a culture or group of people or ideas. It is a way of preserving memory and organizing objects so they can tell a story. To visit a museum is to browse through a collection of the past; to wonder at what was and what is; to understand our part of a bigger picture.
I love museums. But you have probably guessed that by now.