Cabinet of Curiosities

By Mary Jo Gibson

July 27, 2012

After weeks of struggle with computer issues, I am pleased to be back with a new Cabinet of Curiosities.  Realizing that banging my head on my desk wasn’t solving the problem, I decided to make an additional contribution to the economy of Dell and order a new laptop.  Now I can get back to what I enjoy doing the most, research and blogging.  Let us peruse what is in the hidden drawers of this week’s Cabinet.

I don’t care if the monkey is biting the maid, I am having my portrait painted.. shh

Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia is hosting ‘Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado‘ featuring masterworks by Velaquez, Goya, Melendez, El Greco and Ribera.  This spectacular painting belongs to Princess Isabella Clara Eugenia, eldest daughter of Philip II of Spain.  The full length portrait by Alonso Sanchez Coello was commissioned to immortalize one of the most important women of the Hapsburg dynasty.  And it shows, from the incredible period costume she wears, the jewelry on her hands, the cameo of her father held between her fingertips, all speak to the wealth of Spain during this period of history.

Kneeling beside the Princess is the family servant, Magdalena Ruiz; her appearance is part of a long tradition of portraits in which servants, pages, jesters and dwarfs appear with members of the royal family.  This painting is coded with the symbolism of power and conquest, at a time when the absolute belief in the rule and perpetuation of the monarchy was paramount.  Propaganda in art is evident all through history, but the monkeys?  That is really an over the top statement; nevermind that the Princess appears to be petting her servant’s head.


Virtual Tourism

This week, Andreas at TravelWriticus, wrote about his adventures touring the Bildean region of Austria.  Tempting pictures of local cuisine, numerous sights, and classes, all made for a virtual tour for the rest of us. He made latte art, distilled schnaps, and slept in a ‘haunted’ castle.   His photo of Salzburg set against the mountains is breathtaking; cue Julie Andrews and the Sound of Music.


Old Pictures, Treasure Waiting to be Discovered

Boxes of old family photos tend to hold interesting stories.  I received a small collection of old family pictures that I have spent many hours reviewing.  Each grouping tells a story of my family and their descendants, the places they lived and their daily activities.  I would caution anyone that is considering throwing out these historical items.  With a little research, donations can be made to appreciative historical societies.    What’s That Picture is a great blog with vintage photos, mysteries and discoveries all based on the photographs that someone once discarded.  There may be treasure hidden in those dusty boxes; I found a long forgotten Uncle, and a murder mystery worthy of my research efforts.


The Thirst for Intellectual Stimulation is Ubiquitous

The History Channel has been languishing in their recent programming, Swamp People, Ice Road Truckers, and every possible film clip of aliens created in a conspiracy theorists’ shed, just to mention a few of the disappointments.  I did find a nice addition to their website The History Channel Club featuring History Made Every Day.  The clips are short sound bites, but with some expansion, I think they can make this into a worthy project.  Why don’t they consult the Book of Days website for deeper content, is a question I would pose to their researchers.  History isn’t just about the current collective memory of your audience.


Vexed Man at The Getty Museum

How many artists over time have suffered with some kind of mental illness?  The number seems to be unbalanced in comparison with other lifestyle choices.  This bust is one of a series of 69 portrait busts produced in the last thirteen years of Franz Messerschmidt’s life while he was suffering from mental illness.  A contemporary wrote that the artist told him while making the character heads, his hope was to ward away the evil spirits that invaded his mind.

In an interesting aside, the Getty also holds in its collections “Irises” by Vincent Van Gogh, painted while residing in an asylum at Saint Remy, France.


Beautiful Libraries

Gazing around at the unruly collection of books scattered in many areas of my house, I wonder if they will ever end in a library like the ones depicted on, the showcase of some outstanding places where books live.  The English Country House Libraries page shares some spectacular photos; some just appear to be showplaces, while others look like a room that is truly being used for a purpose.


Google some Antarctic Streetviews to keep cool during the hot days

The huts and surrounding landscape of the great South Pole expedition of 1911-1912 can be viewed on the Atlantic magazine site, with interactive Google Streetview capability in the pictures.  I find it fascinating that these capsules of time are still intact, all the artifacts laid out on the tables to peruse.  Looking at the sunlight rooms, it seems unimaginable that the summer weather is 60 degrees below zero, the time when Google bravely ventured on their expedition.


The Harvard Museum of Natural History

Harvard University has an item or two that one would not expect to find in a Natural History Museum.  The institution houses a collection of 3,200 hand crafted glass models of flowering plants created between 1866 and 1936 by German glass artists Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka.  Not on display are 430 glass models of marine invertebrates, such as this glass model of a Portuguese man of war, which Harvard acquired in the late 19th century.  A collection such as this should be on display, at least on line, a unique contribution to natural history by disciplined glass artisans.


iPad App Feature

The Life of Art app has been taken to a new level at the Getty Museum.  Taking selected objects from the museum’s collection, and perceived in different ways.  Encouraging viewers to spend time in examination, understanding how they were made and functioned, why they were collected and how they are displayed.  For each item, the app provides historical notes and the ability to rotate the item on screen and see it from different angles.  The basic app can be used at any time, while visitors can use a special version that adds augmented reality features.  The goal is to learn whether these apps will encourage visitors to spend more time with pieces of art.  Myself, the only discouragement to viewing art for longer periods of time would be the hours of the museum, and maybe time constraints imposed by teenage impatience.


And in the last drawer…

Since the Olympics are taking place in London this year, there is no shortage of news concerning all things on the storied isle.  I managed to find an interesting video on YouTube discussing the City of London, as opposed to London itself.  Confused?  The witty piece reminded me why I appreciate their idiosyncrasies.

Extra bonus, in case you missed the opening ceremonies, the Queen and James Bond.

James Bond and the Queen

James Bond and the Queen


On this whirlwind of curiosities I have taken you to the South Pole, Australia, private libraries in England, Harvard University, Austria, California, London and the City of London. I don’t know about you, but I need a frappucino after all this virtual tourism! I hope you enjoyed my Cabinet of Curiosities, join me next Friday to see what I have collected. What unique things have you collected on your virtual tours?

Mary Jo


1 Comment

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One response to “Cabinet of Curiosities

  1. Pingback: Writing Blog Treasures 7~28 | Gene Lempp ~ Writer

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