chapter  7
26 Pages

The Architecture of Knowledge: Science, Collecting and Display in Eighteenth-Century Naples

Before the age of the ‘modern’ museum – understood as an institutionalized space for education and entertainment, structured according to standard criteria of classication – the passions of curiosity and wonder materialized in eclectic collections that deed the borders between art, science and nature.1 In cabinets of rarities and in Wunderkammern, mathematical instruments and fossils oen shared the same space as paintings, sculptures and ancient vases. If lack of standard classication systems was characteristic of such modes of display, the accumulation and exhibition of objects was not le entirely to chance. Dierent notions of order informed the ways in which space was manipulated and used for display in the early modern period.2 Items were pulled together to satisfy the collector’s idiosyncrasies, yet the existence of a market of curiosities suggests less heterogeneity than one would assume.3 Although the visual representations of early cabinets of curiosities and Wunderkammern illustrate

modes of display that may be unfamiliar to us, they also point to similarities in patterns in the spatial arrangements of collections and even in the architecture of museums.4 Modes of display altered over time: if the Enlightenment museum adopted taxonomic schemes that were indebted to contemporaneous systems of classication in natural history, sixteenth-and seventeenth-century museums were constructed as ‘theatres of the world’, organized according to the ideal of humanist encyclopedism or to the aesthetics of the marvellous.5 e scenographies of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century collections of naturalia and articialia were based on contemporary notions of the natural world, in which individual objects were to be seen and understood in relation to the whole. In such theatrical microcosms, the physical space of display was not accidental: on the contrary, it played an important role in drawing the visitor’s attention to the collector’s tastes and connoisseurship, just as did shelves, boxes, cabinets and even the museum’s guardian.6 e emergence of the natural history museum, the art gallery and the physics cabinet as distinct spaces of display at the end of the eighteenth century corresponded to new epistemologies and representations of knowledge in which the relationships between science, art and nature assumed new forms and meanings. In the ‘modern’ museum, the connections between naturalia and articialia typical of early modern collections were lost: artworks, scientic instruments and natural specimens were spatially dierentiated and allocated diering taxonomies.7