MacGregor A. Cabinets of Curiosities — Tracing the Elusive Afterlife of a Concept: from the Theatre of the World to the Omnium-Gatherum

Arthur MacGregor
Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professor;
Victoria and Albert Museum Research Institute;
Journal of the History of Collections 
London, UK


 Download  |  Go to Issue #4. 2020


ABSTRACT. Since the English language lacks an adequate translation of the terms Kunst- und Wunderkammer―imbued as they are with both particular conceptual and chronological implications―Anglophone historians have tended simply to appropriate them. Reference to the ‘cabinet of curiosities’ may serve in certain circumstances as an appropriate translation, but continuing use of this term from the seventeenth century to the present day has brought with it new connotations that summon up entirely different meanings. Although such semantic drift is a normal feature of linguistic development, it poses difficulties of interpretation when applied to the study of museums over the several centuries of their development. A degree of prudence is called for in using the term in museological literature, so that its implications within a given context remain clear.


KEYWORDS: Kunst- und Wunderkammer, cabinet of curiosities, history of collecting


УДК 69.01
DOI 10.31250/2618-8619-2020-4(10)-8-19



  • Breckenridge C. A. The aesthetics and politics of colonial collecting: India at world fairs // Comparative Studies in Society and History. 1989. 31. No. 2. P. 195-216.
  • Bredekamp H. Die Aufhebung der Grenzen zwischen Kunst und Natur: Geschichte und Gegenwart eines Topos der Kunstkammer // Das Haus Habsburg und die Welt der fürstlichen Kunstkammern im 16. und 17. Jh., ed. S. Haag, F. Kirchweger and P. Rainer, Schriften des KHM 15. Vienna, 2016. P. 13-42. 
  • Bunn J. H. The aesthetics of British mercantilism // New Literary History. 1980. 11. No. 2. P. 303-321.
  • Desmond R. The India Museum 1801-1879. London, 1982.
  • Desmond R. The European Discovery of the Indian Flora, London, 1992.
  • Driver F. and Ashmore S. The mobile museum. Collecting and circulating Indian textiles in Victorian Britain // Victorian Studies. 2010. 52. P. 353-385.
  • East India Museum; a Description of the Museum and Library, of the Honourable East India Company, Leadenhall Street.London, 1851.
  • Fergusson J. Tree and Serpent Worship: Or, Illustrations of Mythology and Art in India in the First and Fourth Centuries After Christ: from the Sculptures of the Buddhist Topes at Sanchi and Amravati. London, 1873.
  • Findlen P. Possessing Nature. Museums, collecting, and scientific culture in early modern Italy. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1994.
  • Horsfield T., Moore F. Catalogue of Lepidopterous Insects in the Museum of the Hon. East-India Company. Vol. I. London, 1857.
  • Horsfield T., Moore F. Catalogue of Lepidopterous Insects in the Museum of the Hon. East-India Company. Vol. II. London, 1858-1859.
  • MacGregor A. Curiosity and Enlightenment. Collectors and Collections from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century. New Haven and London, 2007.
  • MacGregor A. Company Curiosities. Nature, Culture and the East India Company, 1600-1874. London, 2018. 
  • Moore D. T. Geological collectors and collections of the India Museum, London, 1801-1879 // Archives of Natural History. 1982. 10. P. 399-427.
  • Old Humphrey’s Walks in London. New York, 1843.
  • Royle J. F. The Arts and Manufactures of India // Lectures on the Results of the Great Exhibition of 1851: Delivered before the Society of Art, Manufactures, and Commerce at the Suggestion of H. R. H. Prince Albert. London, 1852. P. 441-538.
  • Sclater P. L. The zoological collections in the India House // Nature 1873. 7, 457. P. 8.
  • Sea-Pie. The Museum of the Honourable East India Company, Leadenhall Street // The Sea-Pie, an omnium gatherum of literature & art, with scraps to suit all hands. Vol. 1 (1842). P. 206-11, 250-58, 293-302 [thereafter discontinued].
  • Watson J. F. The Textile Manufactures and the Costumes of the People of India. London, 1866.
  • Watson J. F., Kaye J. W. The People of India: The people of India: a series of photographic illustrations, with descriptive letterpress, of the races and tribes of Hindustan. 1-8. London, 1868-1875.