Tag Archives: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Cabinet of Curiosities


David Roentgen (German, 1743–1807). Berlin Secretary Cabinet, ca. 1778–79. H. 11 ft. 9 3/8 in. (359 cm). Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Inv. nr. O-1962.24). Photograph: Stefan Klonk, Berlin

I am embarrassed to admit my last Cabinet appeared in 2015, however this particular series is dear to my heart and will continue again, with regular updates.

My cabinet is from SteamPunk Tendencies,  a wonderful video that will have you wondering where creativity in furniture production has gone.   Designed by Abraham (1711–1793) and David Roentgen’s (1743–1807) workshop, this masterpiece of craftsmanship located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the finest examples of European furniture making. A writing cabinet crowned with a chiming clock, it features finely designed marquetry panels and elaborate mechanisms that allow for doors and drawers to be opened automatically at the touch of a button. Owned by King Frederick William II, the Berlin cabinet is uniquely remarkable for its ornate decoration, mechanical complexity, and sheer size.cabinet-1

This cabinet, from Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, was featured in the exhibition Extravagant Inventions, on view during October 30, 2012–January 27, 2013, at The Met.


Every February LetterMo celebrates the handwritten letter.  The challenge is to send a hand written letter every postal day during the month.  Renew friendships, reach out to family, and meet new people through this unique challenge.


I miss the handwritten letters of my mother, and still have some squirreled away.  Receiving this type of correspondence transcends the instant gratification of email, giving the sender and recipient a tangible intimate connection.  These 23 little gifts (23 postal days in the month) return the nostalgia of expectation to the mail.  Who isn’t tired of only receiving bills in the mail?  I know I am, and would love more correspondence in the manner.   One of my most popular blog search terms is cursive writing. A fading art, beautiful cursive writing, that will one day be viewed as code to those not educated in this version of text.  Take up the challenge!

In the spirit of hand written text, I wish to share in this Cabinet, Sexy Codicology, and their blog post on Humanistic Script. I stumbled upon Poggio Bracciolini while reading The Swerve, a fantastic story that compels the reader to learn more, a passion of mine.  Credited with saving handwritten texts, painstakingly reproducing the words of many lost Roman humanists, among them the great poem, On The Nature of Things by Lucretius.


Returning this lost manuscript to circulation changed the world beginning in the Middle Ages, when the poem was plucked from a remote monastery in the winter of 1417. History reached across time and beckoned from the gardens of the ancient philosophers to the dark scriptoria of Rome; the vision in these pages shaped the thoughts of Galileo, Freud, Darwin and Einstein, even coming into the hands of Thomas Jefferson, thus leaving its traces on the Declaration of Independence; aside from these possible influences, any book that has a chapter entitled ‘A Pit to Catch Foxes’ is worth a look.



The recent technology activities of the Royal Archives not only brings online access to Queen Victoria’s diaries, ultimately, the veritable treasure trove of King George III will be digitized as well.   America’s “Last King”, suffered from the blood disorder porphyria, producing physical ailments such as insomnia, sensitivity to light and confusion, and leading him to gain the moniker, ‘Mad King George.’  However, there is so much more to this historically maligned monarch.  This BBC documentary gives a rare inside view of the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle.


The King was not only an incredible hoarder but a diligent clerk, squirreling away anything that caught his eye, from classified state documents, maps, theater tickets and scraps of sheet music.  The papers show the king’s devotion to his family and to the great scientists and artists who flourished under his patronage.  He met Mozart and revered Handel all his life.  The planet Uranus was originally named Georgium Sidus – George’s star – discovered by William Herschel in 1781.  The bill for Herschel’s telescope is amongst these archival treasures.


Lastly, for pure escapism, I’ve got the key to Versailles.  Let’s stroll the halls, private chambers, marvel at the Hall of Mirrors, the gardens, and wonder at the magnificence of this storied palace.

Thank you for your continued support of the Cabinet of Curiosities!



What I am watching –  TABOO,  Black Sails

Anticipating – House of Cards

What I am reading –  The Swerve, The Ugly Renaissance

Anticipating – City of Light, City of Poison, Holly Tucker

Anticipating – The Oscars, Tulip Fever

Trending on Twitter @JohnCleese

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Filed under January

Cabinet of Curiosities

Inside of view 3

The Augsburg Art Cabinet virtual tour is a featured item in this week’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

inside the Augsburg cabinet

The Museum at Gustavianum developed an exciting interactive view of this historic masterpiece, referred to  as the Eighth Wonder of the World.  Such high praise raises expectations to the extreme, although well deserved.  Not only is the cabinet one of the best preserved pieces of 17th century antiquity, the collected contents survived intact, providing a microcosm of the day and showcasing how these cabinets were more than a storage area for the eccentric odds of a collector.

outside doors of view 3

The items range from a bird house and miniature cannon, to a complete toilet set.  Each side of the cabinet is functional, gaming tables appear in hidden drawers, and religious paintings reveal personal worship items including a small porcelain ring painted with images inside the cylinder and out.  The interactive features allow the viewer to open drawers and remove covers, exposing these private items.

outside cover of cabinet 2

inside the Augsburg cabinet 2

mirrortoilet stand

The website requires a Flash player download, but is well worth the time to view these pieces and learn more about the history behind this cabinet.

The first story I want to share in this week’s cabinet comes from the Wall Street JournalJanet Stephens, hairdresser by day, intrepid researcher and historian by night, morphing into hairdo archaeologist.  Amateur scholarship, once frowned upon in academic circles, is now considered groundbreaking, as teaching methods and rote memorization of dates become learning styles of the past.

Roman Empress Julia Doman at the Walters Art Museum

Ms. Stephens’ story begins at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, where she observed the bust of Roman Empress Julia Domna.   The hairstyle amazed her, but recreating the gravity defying design proved a daunting task, and she turned to the history books for more information.  Dismissing the scholarly belief that these hairstyles were wigs, she discovered that sewing the braids together produced the correct results.  The rabbit hole of research revealed a Latin term, “acus” which was misapplied in the context of hairdressing.  The word has several meanings: a single prong hair pin or a needle and thread.

Ms. Stephens shared her research with the Journal of Roman Archaeology and was published in 2008.  The only other article published by the Journal by a non-scholar was written by a soldier who discovered an unknown Roman fort in Iraq.  Drawing on these practical experiences can break new ground in the field of research.  I am thrilled the view is changing to accept more research from unconventional sources.  Dismissing these research efforts does a disservice to the advancement of history in the modern day.

Tesla Letterhead

Nikola Tesla knew the value of his inventions, and the value of a dramatic letterhead to reflect these achievements.  A letter to JP Morgan, Esq. in 1916 commanded the attention of the famous financier and philanthropist.  The contents discussed the war and the manufacture of nitric acid through electrical processes, but the statement of the company through these images has a lasting legacy.  The page was shared by the Morgan Library and Museum, where a seemingly endless archive awaits the virtual tourist.

skylight of FLW house

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has furthered their pursuit of a virtual museum through short films at its new site, 82nd & Fifth.  Episode two offers an in depth view of the Frank Lloyd Wright house outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota.  A lake view home designed with open space far ahead of its early 20th century time frame.  Take a walk through the living area, feel the expanse of the room and the light flooding through floor to ceiling stained glass windows.  These two minute stories will be featured twice a week, expanding the vision of the Met through technology.

FLW living room

mount athos cross

The Athos Cross at the Courtland Museum is a technical virtuosity from the celebrated monastic community of Athos.  A center of miniature carving between the 16th and 18th centuries, the craft is still practiced by the monks of Athos today.  The perfect spelling of the inscriptions accompanying each scene suggests the cultured environment where the cross was produced.  Dated to the 18th century, the provenance has recently been revised because of the size, the added elements of the edges and the absence of metal, seeming to point to a 17th century date of execution.  Bequeathed to the Courtland in 1966, the cross did not go on display until 2012.  The cross is double sided, with a separate group of carvings represented on each, continuing a biblical story in chronological order.  The Courtland provides an interactive experience with this treasure, with each tiny scene filling the screen with detail and surprising depth.

raising of lazurus

A Paris apartment, untouched for 70 years, the treasures waiting like Sleeping Beauty to be discovered.  The owner, Miss de Florian, left Paris at the outbreak of WWII, never to return.  Seven decades later she passed away at the age of 91, her rent dutifully paid each month.  Her heirs left with the unenviable job of opening that door, revealing the time capsule.

Marthe de Florian

A further twist to the story is the discovery of this painting, a very important piece of art history, along with stacks of old love letters tied with ribbon.  The painting was by Giovanni Boldini, a member of the Belle Époque.  The woman in the picture is Ms. de Florian’s grandmother, Marthe de Florian, an actress and French socialite of the Belle Époque.  Despite Boldini being married, she was his muse and lover, the ribbon bound letters a testament of their relationship.

Time capsule apartment

Finding such a treasure after nearly a century is a collector’s dream, perhaps the family will publish the letters to put a final chapter to the story.

Lastly, I am excited to share a new show on Starz coming in April, Da Vinci’s Demons. The story is taken from the diaries of Da Vinci himself, and the cast of characters includes Lorenzo Medici, Giuliano Medici, Pope Sixtus IV, Clarice Orsini, Nicolo Machiavelli and Lucrezia Donati. An exciting prospect for the spring, don’t you agree?

My blog posts have diminished in the past two months due to my return to school to finish my degree. As my schedule reverted to a manageable level, I am able to continue with my first love, research and sharing information in this forum. Your patience, comments and follows are deeply appreciated.

Kind regards,

Mary Jo

outside doors of view 4

outside doors of view 3


Filed under February