Wunderkabinett

DEFINITION

A Wunderkabinett is most literally a "cabinet of wonders," and a Wunderkammer is a "chamber of wonders," exhibition spaces in which miscellaneous curiosities (odd and wondrous rarities) brought together for private contemplation and pleasure. These words are German, but they are also used by speakers and writers of English because so many of the earliest (16th century) and best examples have been German. The objects on display in these storage/display spaces were marvels of nature. If some or all of the objects were art, then they were more likely to be called Kunstkabinetts and Kunstkammern instead. These precursors of the museum were developments of the Renaissance. The museum, on the other hand, was a creation of the Enlightenment. A rule in writing German is that the first letter of every noun must be capitalized (common as well as proper nouns), so the W's in these words are usually capitalized in English texts. The plural of Wunderkammer is Wunderkammern.Wunderkabinetts and Wunderkammern very rarely remain today as they were in previous centuries. They are simultaneously pieces of furniture and the collections of objects within them, and naturally the selections of things in them were placed and replaced as their owners decided. The Getty Museum is justly proud of its empty cabinet (and title it Display Cabinet) because this exemplar remains so evocative of the great wonder its viewers must have taken in its presentation.

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