“To give you an idea of my state of mind I can not do better than compare it to one of those rooms we see nowadays in which are collected and mingled the furniture of all times and countries. Our age has no impress of its own. We have impressed the seal of our time neither on our houses nor our gardens, nor on anything that is ours. On the street may be seen men who have their beards trimmed as in the time of Henry III, others who are clean-shaven, others who have their hair arranged as in the time of Raphael, others as in the time of Christ. So the homes of the rich are cabinets of curiosities: the antique, the gothic, the style of the Renaissance, that of Louis XIII, all pell-mell. In short, we have every century except our own—a thing which has never been seen at any other epoch: eclecticism is our taste; we take everything we find, this for beauty, that for utility, another for antiquity, still another for its ugliness even, so that we live surrounded by debris, as if the end of the world were at hand.” (Alfred de Musset)

Once upon a time… the ways of medieval passion and myth-loving and modern empirical scientific methods had been parted long since. Infallibility of the Catholic dogma was already been questioned a few decades before, first in pure theological matters, fuel enough for murderous conflict at the dawn of the Early Modern Age and scrutinising the physical image of the world almost immediately followed suit, by Copernicus, Galilei and all the other late Renaissance heroes of science. There were quite a few, however, who found their calling in sleuthing the mysteries of God’s creation with a bit more attention to detail beyond deducing global coherences. It was a second and third generation of Northern Renaissance men who concerned themselves with topics such as embryology, unicorns, runic script and Bronze Age tombs, to name but a few of their interests. And there was an institution, almost developed to an art form all by itself, that bridged the gap between celestial matters and very mundane frills and furbelows, the Cabinets of Wonder, the Wunderkammer. 

Echoing the old “like above so below”, the maxim of Hermetic Magic, quite fashionable back in the day as well, Cabinets of Wonder were regarded as microcosms uniting all varieties of science with exhibits of natural history and geology as well as pieces of what we today would regard as belonging to the ethnographic or archaeological variety or simply as objets d’art. It was the equivalent of a very tangible professorial dissertation cum natural history museum with a dash of the P.T. Barnum spirit. Every so often, exhibits were intended fakes.

Below you’ll find a collection of tales collected and told in this very spirit, for you to wonder and marvel at: