Automatons like this musical clock in the form of a ship were used as festive table decorations intended to amuse and entertain the diners. The effect was increased when they were designed to mechanically imitate real-life action and could produce a melody as well. Gradually, the traditional centerpieces lost their original function and developed into mechanically moving toys and gadgets, and finally into automatons proper. A mechanism and a musical clockwork allowed this ship automaton to roll across the table, while the tiny musicians on it could be heard and seen to play their instruments. The date 1585 in the inscription and the imperial double eagle on the flags and banners suggest that the ship was intended for Rudolf II. Hans Schlottheim, who built several of these mechanical ships, was staying in Prague in 1587.
Benvenuto Cellini was one of the enigmatic, larger-than-life figures of the Italian Renaissance: a celebrated sculptor, goldsmith, author and soldier, but also a hooligan and even avenging killer. Much of Cellini's notoriety, and perhaps even fame, derives from his memoirs, begun in 1558 and abandoned in 1562, which were published posthumously under the title “The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini”. As noted by one biographer, “His amours and hatreds, his passions and delights, his love of the sumptuous and the exquisite in art, his self-applause and self-assertion, make this one of the most singular and fascinating books in existence.” He confessed to three murders and was several times imprisoned, in one instance breaking out of the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome by climbing down a homemade rope of knotted bedsheets.
A cabinet of curiosities was an encyclopedic collection in Renaissance Europe of types of objects whose categorial boundaries were yet to be defined. They were also known by various names such as Cabinet of Wonder, and in German Kunstkammer (“art-room”) or Wunderkammer (“wonder-room”). Modern terminology would categorize the objects included as belonging to natural history (sometimes faked), geology, ethnography, archaeology, religious or historical relics, works of art (including cabinet paintings) and antiquities. “The Kunstkammer was regarded as a microcosm or theater of the world, and a memory theater. The Kunstkammer conveyed symbolically the patron's control of the world through its indoor, microscopic reproduction.” Besides the most famous and best documented cabinets of rulers and aristocrats, members of the merchant class and early practitioners of science in Europe also formed collections that were precursors to museums.