Paul Griswold Howes (American, 1892-1984) Nocturnal Mollusc, 1962. Watercolor. Gift of the artist, Paul Griswold Howes, Bruce Museum Collections 1052.

Paul Griswold Howes (American, 1892-1984) Florida Wild Flowers and Fungi, 1952. Oil on board. Gift of the artist, Paul Groswold Howes, Bruce Museum Collections 2018.21.02.

Paul Griswold Howes (American, 1892-1984) Untitled (Insect, Fungi, and Pollen Study), 1957. Watercolor. Gift of the artist, Paul Griswold Howes, Bruce Museum Collections 19721.

Collecting Reimagined: A 2D Curiosity Cabinet

December 14, 2019 - March 29, 2020

William Hogarth (British, 1697-1764) Marriage A-la-Mode, Plate III, 1745. Etching and engraving. Engraved by Bernard Baron (French, 1696-1762). Gift of David Larson, Bruce Museum Collections 2005.02.30.

Sea serpents crushing ships. Seven-foot-tall giants. A mummified Porsche. What other oddities might you find in the Bruce Museum’s 2D curiosity cabinet?

See for yourself by exploring the Bruce Museum’s new exhibition, Collecting Reimagined: A 2D Curiosity Cabinet, in the Museum’s Bantle Lecture Gallery.

The practice of collecting objects and putting them on display in cabinets of curiosities reached its peak among European collectors, scientists, and royalty during the 16th and 17th centuries. The purposes of these rooms varied, from showcasing prized possessions to serving as educational tools. Some cabinet owners even aspired to the metaphysical in their desire to create a microcosm of the universe through their collections.

Curiosity cabinets are traditionally thought of as physical spaces filled with objects. However, scholars and artists in the past also used words and images to describe, and occasionally create, cabinets in two-dimensional form. In these works, the cabinet is shown on paper rather than displayed in a room. Prints such as the third plate from William Hogarth’s Marriage A-la-Mode series (shown above) depict the interior spaces and contents of cabinets. Books filled with printed images detail the objects in the cabinets and the categories used to organize them.

Drawing inspiration from these cabinets on paper, this exhibition uses printed works, photographs, medals, textiles, and scrimshaw from the Bruce Museum collections to create a cabinet filled with two-dimensional depictions of typical three-dimensional cabinet objects.

On view through March 29, 2020, Collecting Reimagined: A 2D Curiosity Cabinet is curated by H.S. Miller, the Museum’s Zvi Grunberg Resident Fellow 2019-20. The exhibition is based on a chapter of the master’s dissertation Miller completed while studying at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

“To see an aspect of my research take on a new life as an exhibition is really exciting,” says Miller. “Cabinets of curiosities capture my imagination both as a former scientist who is curious about the natural world and as an art historian who adores all things weird, wacky, and wonderful.”

The Bruce Museum is grateful for exhibition support from the Charles M. and Deborah G. Royce Exhibition Fund and the Connecticut Office of the Arts.

Dr. Inge Reist is the Director Emerita of the Center for the History of Collecting, which she established at The Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library in 2007. Prior to that, she was the Frick’s Chief of Research Collections and Programs and also served as their Head of the Photo Archive. In 2013, she was the founding president of PHAROS: An International Consortium of Photo Archives. 

Holding a Ph.D. in Art History with a specialty in Italian Renaissance and Baroque art, Reist has taught at various schools including Columbia University, Rutgers University, and Hunter College. She has published widely in her field, including in major publications such as The Art Bulletin, Gazette des Beaux Arts, and the Blackwell Companion to Renaissance and Baroque Art. Since retiring from the Frick in 2018, after thirty-seven years at that institution, she remains active in the field. Over the course of the past two years, Dr. Reist has delivered papers at institutions such as the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, the Frick Collection, and, now, the Bruce Museum. 

Dr. Inge Reist’s presentation highlights exceptional examples of the exotica — crocodiles, shells, and amber— and spectacular scientific instruments, alchemical paraphernalia, and works of art that so captivated the princes of Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. She begins with a four minute introduction to the cabinet of curiosities that sets out their historical and philosophical context. The remainder of the talk then explores dozens of dazzling images that show the full range of objects that filled European royal cabinets.