Things get curiouser and curiouser at the Turner Contemporary
- http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2013/may/18/to-wonder-art-pleasure-curiosity[&c.] http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2013/may/18/to-wonder-art-pleasure-curiosity
Consider this curious item of furniture, which belongs to the Geffrye Museum in London and appears at Turner Contemporary, Margate, as part of Curiosity: Art and the Pleasures of Knowing. The object in question, at once austere and elaborate, is a cabinet of intricately carved ebony that stands on eight slender legs and opens to reveal a prismatic array of interior drawers and doors, rendered in fruitwood and ivory. The thing is said to have been made by the renowned Dutch craftsman Pierre Golle, though we cannot be sure. What's certain is that it was bought in Paris in 1652 by Mary Evelyn: wife of the polymath John Evelyn, who used it to store prints and small items. The empty cabinet is a reminder of the capaciousness of Evelyn's intellect and imagination: by the time he died in 1706, he had completed not only half a million pages of his celebrated diary, but treatises on medicine, mathematics, air pollution and the cultivation of trees. He had even written a discourse on salads.
According to the jargon of his age, Evelyn was a curioso: one of those learned individuals whose acquisition of knowledge and things was marked as much by untamed variety as depth or precision of inquiry. And his cabinet is an emblem of curiosity itself, a modestly scaled descendant of the wunderkammer, or cabinet of wonder, that the Renaissance had invented to house its discoveries, natural and artificial. The great cabinets of curiosities, such as those that belonged to Ole Worm and Athanasius Kircher, were in fact whole rooms, precursors of the modern museum, in which objects drawn from far-flung places and times, from all disciplines and art forms, might inhabit the same physical and mental space: animal specimens, minerals, crystals, fossils, ethnographic objects, works of art and mathematical or scientific instruments. Evelyn's sober cabinet is the microcosm of a microcosm – infinite riches in a little room.