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The Collection as Laboratory

Posted By Andrea M. Gáldy, Friday, May 13, 2016

During the sixteenth century, collectors became interested in increasingly varied types of objects. Whereas in many studioli, the display was intended to invite comparisons between antiquities and contemporary works of the art, in other collections the aim was to present the relationships and even rivalries between artificialia and naturalia. A concern with man’s ingenuity was an important element in such new collections, as has been studied in relation to such well-known sixteenth century collections in Florence, or Munich or somewhat later in Prague. Horst Bredekamp observed that ‘the idea of using the collection as an active laboratory rather than a passive collection corresponded to the Promethean practice, perceiving the actions of collecting, researching and constructing the collection as a unit.’  The collector could thus be not just an acquisitor but also a creator. He could himself develop the skills to create complex works of art, the knowledge and skill to practice ivory turning for example; he could bring together scientists and mathematicians to explore the universe, and put to use instruments within the collection. Techniques and new methods of manufacture were also related to objects in the collection.

The aim of this session is to explore the collection as a laboratory of scientific investigation and the pursuit of knowledge, whether through the creation or the use of the objects collected. Although there has been considerable attention given to the development of the kunst and wunderkammer collection, the impact of these in terms of manufacture and impetus for scientific development has been more limited to a few well-known examples. We would encourage the presentation of papers by researchers in the history of science, history of manufacture or collecting. We would also encourage the presentation of material over a broad geographic base, from the lesser-known Italian and German collections to other European collections. Although the time frame is essentially that of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, papers that cover these sites of knowledge at other times are welcome. We hope through the exploration of a variety of collections, to bring a richer understanding of the collection as the nexus of curiosity and skill.

If you wish to contribute to the discussion, please send your abstract of c 300 words and your CV (in accordance with the guidelines set out at to on or before 28 May 2016.

Tags:  Collecting history collectors knowledge manufa 

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