Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lost Libraries and Fake Catalogs: A Renaissance Trope Explained

Musaeum Clausum (the hidden library) is a fake catalogue of a collection that contained books, pictures, and artefacts. Such collections (and their elaborate indices) were a common phenomenon from about 1500 to 1700 and after. Gentlemen and the nobility collected as a matter of polite engagement with knowledge and as a way of displaying wealth and learning; savants made arrays of plants, animals, and minerals as museums or ‘thesauruses’ of the natural world to record and organise their findings; imperial and monarchical collections were princely in their glamour, rarity, and sheer expenditure: these might contain natural-historical specimens but also trinkets and souvenirs from far-flung places, curiosities of nature and art, and historically significant items. For example, taxidermically preserved basilisks shared room with a thorn from Christ’s crown and feathered headdresses and weapons belonging to native American tribes. Browne takes these traditions of assemblage and makes a catalogue of marvellous things that have disappeared...
Read the whole fascinating article about fake catalogues of fictional collections--a common trope, as the article explains, from around 1500 to 1700--on the Public Domain Review website by clicking here.

Image: Engraving from the Dell'Historia Naturale (1599) showing Naples apothecary Ferrante Imperato's cabinet of curiosities, the first pictorial representation of such a collection.

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