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Cabinets of Curiosities

Patrick Mauriès


This spectacular and ingenious history is one of those rare books that rescues a visually rich but little known subject from the past and shows its power to excite us today


‘Infinite riches in a little room’ – such were the cabinets of curiosities of the 17th century, the last period of history when man could aspire to know everything. Once the concern only of scholars and art-historians, the cabinet of curiosities has, since the Surrealists, undergone an astonishing revival as an object of aesthetic pleasure, as well as emerging as a source of inspiration for interior designers and contemporary artists.

Unicorn horns, mermaids’ skeletons, minerals of breath-taking beauty, fossils, preserved animals and plants, sea-shells, monstrous births, insects in amber, wax effigies, death-masks, ivory carvings of incredible virtuosity, automata that imitated living things, clocks, musical instruments, lenses, celestial globes … all knowledge, the whole cosmos arranged - all these could be found in Cabinets of Curiosity.

This book traces their amazing history, from their first appearance in the inventories and engravings commissioned by Renaissance nobles such as the Medici or the Hapsburgs, via those of the Dane Ole Wurm and the Italian polymath Athanasius Kircher, to the serious 17th- and 18th-century scientists Elias Ashmole and Levinas Vincent.

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'Captivating ... Just to read about the chaos of these cabinets, let alone look at the many beautiful images selected by Mauriès, is dizzying ... offers the kind of historical unity of which the early collectors, with their wonderful curiosity and lust for affinity, would have been proud'
The Times Higher Education Supplement

'Collectors, magpies, historians, art lovers and fans of the weird and wonderful will find this book captivating'
The Jeweller

'Superb … extremely erudite … lavishly and beautifully illustrated, showing so many strange things that you can only marvel and stare at them in wide-eyed wonder'

'… a pleasure and an education in itself'
Country Life

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Further Details


Format: Quarterbound/PLC (no jacket)

Size: 30.5 x 22.5 cm

Extent: 256 pp

Illustrations: 272

Publication date: 12 September 2011

ISBN: 9780500515945

Contents List

Introduction • I. The Theatre of the World • II. Opening the Cabinets • III. Collectors • IV. The Revival of the Cabinet of Curiosities

About the Author

Patrick Mauriès is a writer and publisher of many notable titles on fashion and design, including Jewelry by Chanel, A Cabinet of Rarities, The World According to Karl and Fashion Quotes to name a few, all published by Thames & Hudson.