Thought you knew about the animals and plants that live in our rivers and lakes? Do you know about scuba-diving spiders? Or intergalactic amphibians with superhero defence mechanisms? How about carnivorous plants? Or a tiny seal that lives landlocked in the world’s oldest and deepest lake, hundreds of miles from the sea? Perhaps a trip through BioFresh’s Cabinet of Freshwater Curiosities is in order…
Often known as a Wunderkammer (literally, ‘wonder-room’), a Cabinet of Curiosities brings together a collection of unusual, obscure and exotic objects, trinkets and specimens. Popular in Renaissance Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, the cabinets reflected a thirst for intellectual stimulus and investigative spirit prompted by an increasingly expanding known world littered with new and exciting discoveries. Encompassing natural history, archaeology, art and antiquities, cabinets often included a miscellany of preserved animals, skeletons, minerals, shells, maps, sculptures, paintings and other unusual cultural objects.
The distinction between truth and myth often blurred by the curator of a Cabinet of Curiosities – tales of mythical animals and phenomena were sometimes actively encouraged in order to captivate and challenge an audience. For example, Albertus Seba’s thesaurus “Cabinet of Natural Curiosities”, originally published between 1734 and 1765 (and recently reprinted by Taschen here) contains references to seven headed serpents, double headed deer and a “monstrous cat”. For many collectors, the value of a Cabinet of Curiosities lay in the ability to spark and stimulate conversation rather than imposing any set values or meanings on the (often disparate) collections.
The cabinet was closed 2016.