Ian Howard: The Death of Magic 2015 mixed media on canvas 240 x 300cm
(photo Chris Park)
Wunderkammer as magic Wunderkammer as the death of magic
In 1565, Samuel Quiccheberg published the earliest known treatise on museums, the Inscriptiones vel tituli Theatri Amplissimi. Quiccheberg proposes a model for the ideal Wunderkammer as an ordered and comprehensive collection of naturalia and artificialia. A Wunderkammer was an encyclopedic collection in Renaissance Europe of types of objects whose categorical boundaries were yet to be defined. Modern terminology would categorise the objects included as belonging to natural history, geology, ethnography, archaeology, religious or historical relics, works of art and antiquities. Renaissance Wunderkammer were private spaces, created and formed around a deeply held belief that all things were linked to one another through either visible or invisible similarities, and the belief that by detecting those visible and invisible signs and by recognising the similarities between objects, there would come an understanding of how the world functioned, and what was humanity’s place in it. But although everything can be connected – mystically – that is not to say everything is connected. The Wunderkammer became a machine for both the birth of reason and the death of magic. The dilemma of the Wunderkammer could ( and should ) be celebrated like the failure of Babel – for its polyphony of wondrous and beautiful mistranslations, misreadings and misunderstandings, and its grasp of the power of objects and beauty of ruins.
index: the geometry of Beuys, the mandragora, names for the Devil, the lost languages in which no books were written, Giordano Bruno On the Composition of Images, Signs and Ideas, the alchemical tree, the transcripts of Babel, Basilius Valentinus Ein kurtz summarischer Tractat, von dem grossen Stein der Uralten, Polpo, the Constructivist dart, the nautical charts from the Ship of Fools, Quaratesi saviour St. Nicolas, the devil’s footage of the temptation of St. Anthony, the Russian experiment, the damaged dragon of Bellini, the hieroglyphs which meant nothing, the glass domes ( through their transparency and shine, have the rare virtue of simultaneously animating and distancing the objects they cover), Mike Kelley’s Kandors, the inhabitants of Quixote’s windmills, MDF, Jorge Luis Borges Ramón Llull’s Thinking Machine, the experiments of Luigi Galvani, De Lama Lamina of Matthew Barney, wunderkammer as magic, wunderkammer as the death of magic.
In the 1500s, as printing became the most common method of producing books, intellectuals increasingly valued the inventiveness of scribes and the aesthetic qualities of writing. From 1561 to 1562, Georg Bocskay, the Croatian-born court secretary to the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I, created thisModel Book of Calligraphy in Vienna to demonstrate his technical mastery of the immense range of writing styles known to him.
About thirty years later, Emperor Rudolph II, Ferdinand’s grandson, commissioned Joris Hoefnagel to illuminate Bocskay’s model book. Hoefnagel added fruit, flowers, and insects to nearly every page, composing them so as to enhance the unity and balance of the page’s design. It was one of the most unusual collaborations between scribe and painter in the history of manuscript illumination.
Because of Hoefnagel’s interest in painting objects of nature, his detailed images complement Rudolph II’s celebrated Kunstkammer, a cabinet of curiosities that contained bones, shells, fossils, and other natural specimens. Hoefnagel’s careful images of nature also influenced the development of Netherlandish still life painting.
In addition to his fruit and flower illuminations, Hoefnagel added to the Model Book a section on constructing the letters of the alphabet in upper- and lowercase.