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.
In addition to the beautiful building of the Cathédrale Saints-Michel-et-Gudule in Brussels, they have some lovely art that I thought I would share. For me, the virgin and infant shown above is one of the most delicate and evocative portraits I have seen. I must admit to spending time in front of this sculpture and being moved when I left. I resolved to do some research on Conrad Meit and I found a quite interesting story. As court sculptor to Margaret of Austria in Mechelen beginning in 1514, Conrad Meit (1470-1550) was a major proponent of the Renaissance style, noted for his fusion of German realism and Italian idealism. Also his introduction of the secular bust, which emerged in Northern Europe only around 1500 makes him a seminal figure in the history of sculpture and art collecting in the tradition of the Kunstkammer (cabinet of art and marvels). Both Albrecht Dürer and Lucas Cranach the Elder appreciated the work of Meitner Conrat (Conrad Meit). On his journey to the Netherlands, Dürer (who may have known the sculptor from Wittenberg) dined with Meit several times. In his diary, he referred to Meit as, “The good carver named Conrad, whose equal I've never seen, who serves the Emperor's daughter Margaret”. This is one of his larger sculptures at about 25 inches in height.