The Renaissance Discovery of the World: Collecting and Collections in the Early Modern Era

This course explores habits of collecting in Europe from about 1500 to 1650, and traces the development of the Kunstkammer and the cabinet of curiosities in the great age of discovery that saw the opening up of new worlds to European experience. It examines how the collecting of natural and artificial objects fortified princely power, transformed the nature of both aesthetic and scientific experience, and shaped the sensibility of intellectuals. Emphasis is placed as much on the great courtly collections of central Europe, including those of the Wittelsbach Dukes of Bavaria, the Dukes of Saxony, and the Habsburg rulers, as on the collections of doctors, apothecaries, scholars, and natural scientists, and on the networks of knowledge and sociability that grew up around them. The changing relationship between art, nature, and science, embodied in early modern collections, is used to chart the gradual shift from a medieval to a recognizably modern understanding of the processes of nature and of man’s place in the world. Knowledge of French and German is an advantage but not essential.

3 credits. Satisfies the pre-1800 requirement.