When the first Cabinet of Curiosity, or Wunderkammer, opened to the public in the 16th century, it was a sight to behold, an extraordinary collection of objects ranging from shells, fossils, minerals and taxidermied exotic animals, to paintings, books, sculpture, scientific apparatus, unusual oddities and artefacts of ethnographic and archaeological interest.


The Wunderkammers of the Renaissance period served as precursors to the modern museum and taxonomic classification systems, introduced during the Enlightenment to organise objects, are still in place today. This curation brings together and exhibits works from the nation’s art collection side by side, emulating the kinds of objects and display style of early Cabinets of Curiosities.

18 artworks
Shells
Image credit: Burton Constable Hall

Shells 18th C

British School

Oil on canvas

H 62.2 x W 75 cm

Burton Constable Hall

Fossils (February)
© the artist's estate / Bridgeman Images. Image credit: Government Art Collection

Fossils (February) 1955

Tristram Paul Hillier (1905–1983)

Oil on canvas

H 35.6 x W 45.6 cm

Government Art Collection

Pieces of Volcanic Minerals from Solfatara
Image credit: Wellcome Collection

Pieces of Volcanic Minerals from Solfatara 1776

Pietro Fabris (active c.1740–1804)

Etching & gouache on paper

H 21.3 x W 39.3 cm

Wellcome Collection

Two Mineral Specimens Found in the Fossa Grande on Mount Vesuvius
Image credit: Wellcome Collection

Two Mineral Specimens Found in the Fossa Grande on Mount Vesuvius 1776

Pietro Fabris (active c.1740–1804)

Etching & gouache on paper

H 21.2 x W 39 cm

Wellcome Collection

There's Life in the Old Fossils Yet
© the artist. Image credit: Craven Museum & Gallery

There's Life in the Old Fossils Yet 2010

Tony Stephenson

Scrap metal

H 44 x W 20 x D 20 cm

Craven Museum & Gallery

Butterflies, Moths and Insects with Sprays of Common Hawthorn and Forget-Me-Not
Image credit: The National Gallery, London

Butterflies, Moths and Insects with Sprays of Common Hawthorn and Forget-Me-Not 1654

Jan van Kessel the elder (1626–1679)

Oil on wood

H 11.8 x W 14.7 cm

The National Gallery, London

A Crocodile, a Gigantic Fish and a Sea Monster Flanked by Two Flying Fish
Image credit: Wellcome Collection

A Crocodile, a Gigantic Fish and a Sea Monster Flanked by Two Flying Fish c.1750

unknown artist

Gouache on paper

H 23 x W 13 cm

Wellcome Collection

The Dead Flamingo, Interior of Bethnal Green Museum
Image credit: Tameside Museums and Galleries Service: The Astley Cheetham Art Collection

The Dead Flamingo, Interior of Bethnal Green Museum

Archibald Hattemore (1890–1949)

Oil on canvas

H 116.8 x W 89.7 cm

Tameside Museums and Galleries Service: The Astley Cheetham Art Collection

Darwin and Friends
© the copyright holder. Image credit: UCL Culture

Darwin and Friends 1980

Stephen Nash (b.1951)

Oil on hardboard on wood

H 152.5 x W 213.3 cm

UCL Culture

George Sim in His Workshop, Aberdeen
Image credit: Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums

George Sim in His Workshop, Aberdeen 1890

Rodolphe Christen (1859–1906)

Oil on canvas

H 56.2 x W 47.3 cm

Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums

The Naturalist
Image credit: Gallery Oldham

The Naturalist 1920s

George Henry Wimpenny (1857–1939)

Oil on canvas

H 100 x W 70 cm

Gallery Oldham

Dr T. S. P. Strangeways
© the copyright holder. Image credit: Strangeways Research Laboratory, University of Cambridge

Dr T. S. P. Strangeways 1927

David Ernest Lockhart Hamshere (1902–1982)

Oil on canvas

H 40.5 x W 51 cm

Strangeways Research Laboratory, University of Cambridge

A Rare Specimen
© the copyright holder. Image credit: Gloucester Museums Service Art Collection

A Rare Specimen

James Walker Tucker (1898–1972)

Oil on canvas

H 89.8 x W 120 cm

Gloucester Museums Service Art Collection

A Skeleton, Anterior View, Facing to Right, with Tendons
Image credit: Wellcome Collection

A Skeleton, Anterior View, Facing to Right, with Tendons 1764/1765

Jacques-Fabien Gautier d'Agoty (1710–1781)

Oil on canvas

H 200 x W 64.5 cm

Wellcome Collection

The Paston Treasure
Image credit: Norfolk Museums Service

The Paston Treasure c.1665

Dutch School

Oil on canvas

H 165 x W 246.5 cm

Norfolk Museums Service

Vanitas Still Life with a Statuette of an Antique Athlete and a Print of Michelangelo
Image credit: National Trust Images

Vanitas Still Life with a Statuette of an Antique Athlete and a Print of Michelangelo 1675

Edwaert Collier (c.1640–c.1707)

Oil on panel

H 89.5 x W 64 cm

National Trust, Dyrham Park

Female Figure
Image credit: Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum

Female Figure

unknown artist

Wood

H 66 x W 18 x D 15 cm

Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum

Ibeji Figure
Image credit: Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge

Ibeji Figure

unknown artist

Wood, cloth, metal, glass & shells

H 36 x W 25.1 cm

Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge