MacGregor A. Cabinets of Curiosities — Tracing the Elusive Afterlife of a Concept: from the Theatre of the World to the Omnium-Gatherum
ARTHUR MACGREGOR — Doctor, Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professor, Victoria and Albert Museum Research Institute (London, UK); Editor, Journal of the History of Collections
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
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