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.
This cuneiform map of the Babylonian world is an archeological treasure on a par with the Rosetta Stone and the code of Hammurabi. The Babylonian World Map, also known as Imago Mundi is usually dated to the 6th century BCE and is the one of the oldest known world maps and certainly the most famous. We saw this when we were at the British Museum for the Olympics and I thought I would do some posts on famous ancient maps. An inscription on the Babylonian World Map indicates that it was a copy of a previous map and the locations featured on the map indicate that the original could not have been created earlier than the 9th century BCE. The back of the tablet is covered with cuneiform mainly describing Seven Islands or regions which are depicted in the form of equal triangles rising beyond the circle of the Earthly Ocean.
The Hall of Battles is longer than the Hall of Mirrors, 394 feet, and is lined with huge paintings of French victories through the ages, including oils by Delacroix and Fragonard. Its creation was the idea of Louis-Philippe I, King of the French and it replaced apartments which had been occupied in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are literally hundreds of busts and 39 paintings, I will not present them all.
I wanted to write a little on the Musée des Arts et Métiers, a scientific museum like the Smithsonian, only smaller, in Paris. It was founded in 1794, during the French Revolution. It was first proposed by the abbot Henri Grégoire as a “depository for machines, models, tools, drawings, descriptions and books in all the areas of the arts and trades”. The deserted Priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs was selected as the site of collection, which formally opened in 1802. It is a fun place for adults and children and has some really cool stuff in the collection. For instance, the airplane shown above was the original “bat-plane” created by Clément Ader, powered by a little steam engine of his own design. On 9 October 1890, Ader attempted a flight of the Éole. The aircraft took off, reaching a height of 20 cm, and flew for approximately 50 meters (160 ft), 13 years before the Wright Brothers. There are also some exhibits related to the statue of liberty including this 1/16 scale model at the entrance.
The Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM) is a doctoral degree-granting higher education program, operated by the French government, dedicated to providing education and conducting research for the promotion of science and industry. Some of the students were enjoying the sunny day.
The Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris has a large collection of astrolabes and these are rare as “hens teeth”. Today, we do not really understand the emphasis on astrology and astronomy in the past, but put simply, the heavens were considered quite literally heaven. The association of the phases of the moon and stars with tides, history and even menstrual periods was not lost on the ancients. They responded with astrology, an attempt to link the stars with events on earth. It reflected a worldview based on a highly esteemed Greek precedent and only lost credence during the “Age of Enlightenment” in the 18th century, giving way to our modern scientific, evidence based, worldview. The beautiful astrolabe shown above was made in Louvain, Netherlands in 1565 in the Arsenius workshop signed Regnerus Arsenius. An important university founded in 1423 helped to create the climate where the instrument workshop was founded in about 1530 and flourished through much of the century, directed at first by the cartographer Gerard Mercator (all modern maps use a “Mercator Projection”) in association with the mathematician and physician Gemma Frisius (famous for his Gemma rings and other things), and later by Gemma's 'nephew' Gualterus Arsenius. You can read more about this instrument here, it took about a year to make, it was delicate, complicated and expensive. There are only about 25 Arsenius astrolabes in the world, the one below is from the Galileo Museum in Florence, Italy.
If you are visiting the Eiffel tower and looking for something else to do, you might consider the French Maritime Museum at the Trocadero, the largest in the world. Apart from Napoleon’s canot, seen below, another striking feature in the first room at the Paris Musée de la Marine is the painting of the arrival of Napoleon III at Gênes in 1859, by Théodore Gudin seen above.
In 1748, Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau offered a collection of models of ships and naval installations to Louis XV of France, with the request that the items be displayed at the Louvre and made available to students of the Naval engineers school, which Duhamel headed. The collection was put on display in 1752, in a room of the first floor, next to the Academy of Sciences; the room was called “Salle de Marine” (Navy room), and was used for teaching. King Charles X decided to create the maritime museum in 1827, which he named the Musée Dauphin but after 1830 the name was changed to what we know it as today, the Musée de Marine.
‘Gypsy Girl’ (also known as ‘Bohemian’) is an oil painting on wood created by Frans Hals in approximately 1628-1630. It depicts a young gypsy wench who appears to be slightly leaning her right arm on a table or counter, and bears a sly and somewhat mischievous smile on her face. Each brush stroke has been exquisitely executed as to create a particular elegance to her burly physique. She seems to be facing a window that illuminates her face, drawing the viewer’s attention to her voluptuous breasts. She dons a red overdress, with a low-cut white shirt underneath. Hals well-known portraiture talents are most apparent in ‘Gypsy Girl’ as he masterfully contrasts her hardened street-smart appearance with the soft, natural beauty of her inner self. She seems happy with her life.
Hals was a master of a technique that utilized something previously seen as a flaw in painting, the visible brushstroke. The soft curling lines of Hals' brush are always clear upon the surface: “materially just lying there, flat, while conjuring substance and space in the eye.” Hals was fond of daylight and silvery sheen, while Rembrandt used golden glow effects based upon artificial contrasts of low light in immeasurable gloom. Both men were painters of touch, but of touch on different keys — Rembrandt was the bass, Hals the treble.
The painting above is titled “Young Man in a Mitre” (jeune homme a la mitre) by Pieter Van Mol, date unknown. I find this painting to be very beautiful and almost impressionistic. The face and hair are very finely executed while the details of the mitre and robe seem to have been intentionally blurred. The face seems bathed in light, and it is the face and hair that draw you in. The subject seems serious but perhaps because of the hair and age, I feel a tension between the responsibilities of the clergy and the natural exuberance of youth.
For me and apparently many others, Vermeer is a guilty pleasure. His paintings are so few and so small that it is hard to get enough of them. I sometimes find myself looking, when we travel, to see if any museums in the area have a Vermeer. Fortunately for me, the Louvre has two. I often wonder why a similar small masterpiece, the Mona Lisa has such a large crowd perpetually glued to it's location while these two small, but exquisite paintings are usually left to themselves. If you visit the Louvre, spend time with with these paintings, the pleasure will last long after you leave. Normally I photograph with the frame, but because these are so small, so beautiful and so loved by everyone, I have enlarged just the painting for both.