Cabinet of Curiosities

January 6, 2012
By Mary Jo Gibson

Domenico Benotti of Florence, Italy designed this week’s cabinet in 1644; the subject includes ‘Orpheus Playing to the Beasts’ with figures of Juno, Hercules and Jupiter.  John Evelyn, who traveled extensively through France and Italy during the English Civil War, purchased the cabinet.  While in Florence, he ordered the pietra dura plaques directly from Benotti, who was then considered one of the ‘celebrated masters’ of design.  Arriving in England, the cabinet was housed in Dover Street, London, and after Evelyn’s death in 1706, it moved to his country residence, Wotton House in Surrey.

An interesting side note, John Evelyn’s diaries were discovered in an ebony cabinet at Wotton House, in 1813.


JMW Turner, The Vaughan Bequest
The Piazzetta, Venice

A bolt of lightning flashes across the sky above the Piazzetta viewed from the Grand Canal, illuminating the Doge’s Palace, a dome of St. Mark’s and the arcade of the Marciana Library.  The first patron saint of Venice, St. Theodore and the winged lion of St. Mark tower above people running for cover from the rain.  During his second visit to Venice in 1833, Turner painted the drama of the storm and the beauty of the Piazzetta while scraping off and rubbing paint into the paper’s white surface.


Race Against Time at the Tate

The Tate Museum has launched an iPhone game where players travel through the history of modern art foiling an evil villain’s plan to remove all the color from the world.  Race Against Time, created by Somethin’ Else, challenges players to defeat Dr. Greyscale as they travel through the major art movements of 1890 to the present day.  Bringing art to new audiences who are interested in a playful experience rather than cultural institutions is the aim of the museum.  The game is available free from the App Store.


Hatchlands by Neil Fuller

Desktop Calendar from the National Trust

The National Trust released its 2012 desktop calendar with images drawn from their photography competition.  Each month has a theme and is available for free download in several image sizes.  The January picture shows the community kitchen garden of the Hatchlands Estate in Surrey, known as the Grace and Flavor Garden.

This 18th century mansion was built for Admiral Edward Boscawen, hero of the Battle of Louisburg, and his wife Fanny, a prolific letter writer and early member of the Blue-stocking society.  Designed by neo-classical architect, Robert Adam, it is one of his earliest commissions.  At over 400 acres, Hatchlands is one of the largest country estates within the green belt surrounding greater London.  The mansion is set on informal grounds, partly landscaped by Humphrey Repton, with a small parterre garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll.


Bridgeman Collection in Book Cover Art

Publishers have taken advantage of the Bridgeman’s cultural image resource for a myriad of book covers.  From educational to classic literature, modern fiction and coffee table art books, a diverse range of images from the spectrum of art history capture the imaginations of readers of the thrilling tales and visual splendor that lie within.

Every month the Bridgeman creates new features that highlight the archive.  Character sketches from the stories of Charles Dickens, the Race to the South Pole, and an in-depth study of Renoir’s ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ are available on their main page.


Teaching Galileo? Get to know Riccioli!

Christopher Graney at Jefferson Community and Technical College in Louisville, KY has posted an in-depth teaching guide to a forgotten member of the scientific community; while Galileo is called the “Father of Physics”, who has heard of one of his most ardent critics, Giovanni Battista Riccioli (1598-1671).  Riccioli mapped the moon establishing the modern system of lunar nomenclature, a Catholic priest and member of the Jesuits, known for his experiments with pendulums and with falling bodies such as lead and wooden balls.

Riccioli described himself as a theologian, but one with a strong and ongoing interest in astronomy.  His enthusiasm for astronomy was one he could not extinguish, officially assigned to the task of astronomical research, he built an observatory in Bologna at the College of St. Lucia.  He collaborated with others in his work, including Grancesco Maria Grimaldi (1618-1663) and keep voluminous correspondence with others who shared his interests such as Hevelius, Huygens, Cassini and Kircher.  Louis XIV awarded Riccioli a prize in recognition of all his activities and relevance to contemporary culture.


Before restoration

Salvaged – Restoring the Sirens and Ulysses

The Manchester Art Gallery has an ambitious restoration project currently documented on their web page, The Sirens and Ulysses by William Etty.  Exhibited by the Royal Society in 1837, the subject of Homer’s Odyssey, Etty researched the subject matter thoroughly, even studying corpses for the figures of the dead sailors.

Bought unseen by Daniel Grant in a deal over dinner, paying about 250 pounds, he soon gave the picture to his brother William, who presented it to the Royal Manchester Institution in 1839.  It was exhibited in the “Art Treasures of the United Kingdom” in 1857, soon after going in to long term storage, the condition of the painting considered “too poor” for display.

Deteriorating for nearly 200 years, Etty’s experimental technique meant the picture began to fall apart as soon as it was painted.  Converting gallery space into a public conservation studio, the Manchester began the restoration process with visitors able to watch.  Now fully restored and back in the original frame, the painting is on permanent display.

After restoration


Photoshopping Edward VIII

When Edward VIII abdicated in 1936, he had already posed for his Coronation picture for the Illustrated London News.  Drawn in advance of the ceremony for a special edition of the News, but discreetly shelved when he gave up the throne, the picture recently emerged from the archives of the magazine.

The painting of the king before he was formally crowned came from the Royal artist of the day, Albert H. Collings.  Instead of a new painting for his successor George VI, the artist simply painted over the face.

Edward sat for the portrait wearing the Imperial Robe of purple velvet, the cape of ermine and silk worn at the conclusion of the ceremony on the exit from Westminster Abbey.  Edward became King in January 1936 on the death of his father, George V, but was not due to be formally crowned until May 1937.  Torn between his love for Wallis Simpson and the crown, he eventually abdicated.


Locating London’s Past

Launched at the end of 2011, Locating London’s Past is an interactive website using the overlay of historical data onto maps of the city.  Allowing the amateur access to research methods in the expanding field of digital tools that would previously involve multiple trips to the library.

The website uses two historical maps, the standard by John Rocque from 1746 and the first accurate map from 1869, both rendered in astonishing detail.  Datasets include a wide range of subjects: parish registers, plague deaths, tax records, court sessions from the Old Bailey, and archaeological records from the Museum of London.

Plague map of City of London, 1666


Oxford Dictionaries

Looking to expand your vocabulary or add some color to your written words?  The Oxford Dictionaries has a wonderful blog, and the recent post on eponyms will show you just how simple it is to create a new world with just a few words.  Using slang or historical verbiage, the links between real life and the English language become a connection point.  Orwellian to Darwinian, Guinness or Pimms, allow descriptives to make these connections between words and people.  Known by the name or the originator, eponyms have become generic descriptors for everyday objects-sufficiently well known to pass into everyday speech and subsequently into language dictionaries.


Thank you for joining me for this week’s Cabinet of Curiosities!   If you have any comments or suggestions of interesting sites, please feel free to mention them in section below.  I will see you next week for Museum Monday.





Filed under January

3 responses to “Cabinet of Curiosities

  1. Love the restoration of the Sirens & Ulysses. The Manchester did a fantastic job. The Oxford Dictionary blog sounds like a wonderful resource. I’ll be checking that one out for sure. Excellent post, Mary Jo, thanks for sharing these incredible finds!

  2. Thanks Gene, the Etty painting is truly unique. With all the news about restorations, it is great to find positive results.

  3. Have you ever considered publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other
    sites? I have a blog based upon on the same topics you discuss and would really like to have you
    share some stories/information. I know my readers would value
    your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e-mail.

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