Cabinet of Curiosities

At the end of every research week I have an assortment of interesting bits I find on the web, but have nowhere to share them. Creating this small post gives me a depository for extra information that I can share with my readers.

Mary Jo Gibson, This Write Life

July 8, 2011

Does the thought of the Grand Tour fascinate you?  The idea began in the 17th century, gaining popularity throughout the 18th and 19th century and continuing through today as a popular reference for travelers.  First considered a mobile finishing school in art and manners, practiced by royalty and aristocratic families with an enthusiasm for travel; the benefits of elevated social status and educational enhancement were considered a pedigree of ‘good breeding’ from new cultural experiences and adventures.

The greatest site I have found on the World Wide Web so far; Imago Urbis: Giuseppe Vasi’s Grand Tour of Rome; bringing two completely unrelated time periods into one comparative tour.  From the grand master of Roman topography, Giambattista Nolli, who published the first accurate map of Rome, and Giuseppe Vasi, whose documentation of the city and its monuments inspired famous Europeans such as Byron and Shelley to take the “grand tour.”

Over 240 of Vasi’s topographic prints are presented in detail and in relationship to Nolli’s map.  Their work and methods are interpreted through analysis of the artistic and historic context.  With photographs of the current appearance of the sites, the text gives detailed historical content, record of buildings, street names, architect, dates and demolition histories of the area.  The three half-buried columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux at the Chiesa di S. Maria Liberatrice, includes descriptions of a cattle trough where three jets of water pour into a circular basin.

All the background information is available on one page, this is a rare find for anyone wanting to view history in contrast with the current day.  This site is sponsored by the University of Oregon, and funded by the generosity of the Getty Foundation.  I am grateful to the Getty for connecting me to their prodigious online archive, and have a plethora of things to share with you; most notably, a mirificent cabinet of curiosities that will have a featured page in my next cabinet column.

Stamps-tiny pieces of art

A new set of stamps has been released honoring pioneers of American Industrial Design.

Unable to make careers in the fine arts, this group turned to industrial design as a way to make a living.  Many were previously set and costume designers, involved in the advertising profession or window display.  Industrial design emerged from the 1920′ and 30’s, when manufacturing turned to designers in order to create products with a modern look.  After WWII products were mass produced and designers experimented with new materials, plastic, vinyl, chrome, aluminum, plywood, also reducing the price and providing wider availability.

The stamps honor Peter Muller Munk, Frederick Hurten Rhead, Raymond Loewy, Donal Deskey, Walter Dorwin Teague, Henry Dreyfus, Norman Bel Geddes, Dave Chapman, Greta von Nessan, Eliot Noyes, Russel Wright, and Gilbert Rohde.

Related artifacts can be found in the Cooper Hewitt collection, where the dedication ceremony of the new stamps took place. Rhead’s Fiesta ware, cameras designed by Teague who worked with the Eastman Kodak company; dinnerware designed by Loewy for the Concorde airliner; drawings and examples of flatware from Wright; drawings for John Deere tractors and models of Bell telephones by Dreyfus.  The Cooper Hewitt also holds the archives of Henry Dreyfuss and Donald Deskey.

Dutch and Flemish Masterworks

The de Young Fine Arts Museum has a new collection opening this weekend “Dutch and Flemish Masterworks.”  On their website is a great timeline to refresh your 17th century historical facts.  From 1600 when wigs and dress trains became fashionable and Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, the founding of the first university in North America, Harvard College, to the year ice cream became a popular dessert in Paris.  All interspersed with highlights of this collection, Anthony van Dyck, Rembrandt van Rijn, painting during the era when William Henry announced the discovery of the circulation of blood.

Furniture as Art

Art Babble will introduce you to a French writing desk, but this is not an ordinary piece of furniture.  A video from the Getty Museum shows how a small table could be transformed through mechanical ingenuity with just the turn of a key opening many drawers and compartments.  The 3-D visuals and intricate design of the table make it a true work of art to engage all the senses.  Imagine what could be hidden away in this small piece of furniture, waiting to be found.

Renaissance Men on Television

Peabody Award winner, Emmy winner, Grammy winner, free Pepsi winner, but is Steven Colbert truly a renaissance man?  Or does he have only puissant skills?  Steven Colbert and James Franco expostulate on the lower common denominators, and true aesthetic moments.  Enjoy clips from the Colbert Report and a deep Tolkien discussion.

That is all for this week’s Cabinet of Curiosities!  Join me for Museum Monday when I will be taking a virtual tour of the Timken Museum of Balboa Park, San Diego, CA.  Suggested by one my readers Elle B, author of the Late Bloomer blog.  If you know of any great items for the Cabinet, please mention them in the comments below.


Mary Jo



Filed under July

6 responses to “Cabinet of Curiosities

  1. Leonard Grossman

    I am glad I came across your beautifully presented blog, I especially lisle your stated purpose, which goes back to the original meaning of weblog — a log of items the writer foound on her journey through the web. Noe the term has come to mean something entirely different. I is good to see a return to our rootsG

  2. Being a writer I love the writing table. It makes me wonder if something similar to it could be created to function with modern technology while retaining the grand look of a past era. Something to consider. I’m looking forward to the Getty feature next week, they always have some of the most interesting items.

    Great cabinet Mary Jo!

  3. Pingback: Blog Treasures « Gene Lempp's Blog

  4. Hi Leonard!
    Thank you for your lovely comments. I love looking at the past history and how it effects our daily lives. I am constantly finding parts of myself I have lost over the years when I look at ancestry and historical perspective. Cheers! MJ

  5. Between the cabinet photo at the top and that amazing video of the desk, you are appealing to my love of antiques with many hidden compartments. It sets my mind spinning about what secrets the owners of these items were hiding. I have always fantasized about having some incredible roll top desk for my writing. Now that I’ve seen the french one, I have a whole new fantasy. 😉 And the old maps that coincide with modern photos in that tour of rome were exceptional as well. All the curiosities you discussed here were wonderful. Such an interesting post, thanks!

  6. Thank you Madame Paradox! I enjoy the hidden compartments also. My mind starts to think about what a poisoner’s cabinet would look like, and then I am off to find more incredible things. Eventually I will find a few moments to write about my poisoner!

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