An Astonishing Recreation of a Renaissance Cabinet of Curiosities #ArtTuesday

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At the turn of the 17th century, Ferrante Imperato, a well-to-do apothecary from Naples, had a truly impressive collection of natural history curios. From skeletons to seashells to swordfish, Imperato’s collection was a microcosm of how he, and his fellow European curiosi, encountered and catalogued the then-known natural world. When Imperato published a catalogue of his collection in 1599, Dell’Historia Naturale, he included a fold-out, engraved illustration of how he stored everything in floor-to-ceiling cabinets and bookshelves chockfull of books and natural history bric-a-bracs. With an alligator on the ceiling to taxidermied birds on the shelves, Imperato’s collection and its organization quickly came to epitomize Renaissance Europe’s Wunderkammer — cabinet of curiosities — and has for centuries.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) has brought Imperato’s 16th-century engraving to life in its Cabinet of Curiosities exhibit. On the second floor of the museum, nestled between the Halls of Texas and African Wildlife, the HMNS has faithfully recreated a Renaissance cabinet of curiosities, right down to the sprightly lyre music plucking away in the background. The exhibit has the ethos and aesthetic of Imperato’s Renaissance cabinet, complete with a school of pufferfish hanging from the ceiling.

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