Tag Archives: Museum Experience

Cabinet of Curiosities


Cabinet of Curiosities


Mary Jo Gibson

A memorable Museum Experience engages the visitor on levels expected and unexpected. Participation with new technologies opens deeper communication and understanding of the exhibit, inspiring intuitive learning; museums have this ability in spades.  Making the old new again with hands on exploration moves an exhibit to a level of relevance not considered in the previous scope of art, deepening the connection to the viewer; bringing all the senses into the Museum Experience.

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Augsburg Cabinet, Chicago Art Institute

Viewing the Chicago Art Institute’s Augsburg Cabinet is stunning, however, not complete, as the hidden treasures within lie beyond the opulent doors.  Technology has produced a stunning video that shows the inner workings of the cabinet, the separate compartments, and the art that adorn the deeper recesses.

Authors Own Interactive

Cabinets made in the southern German town of Augsburg during the 16th and 17th century are famous for their showy decorations, typically executed in ebony veneer and ivory inlay, as with this excellent specimen on display in Gallery 234.  The craftsmanship of this decoration is matched by the inventiveness of the cabinets’ interior structure, part display case, part tool chest and part safe-deposit box.  These were usually commissioned by one craftsman who subcontracted the various specialized components and then sold the completed object from his shop.  Cooperation between silversmiths, cabinet makers and goldsmiths, a constant aspect of Augsburg craftsmanship, facilitated the production of elaborately mounted mirrors, clocks, traveling services and these specialized cabinets.  Produced in small series, the cabinets usually have only minor variations in decoration, they are calculated to appeal, in iconography, ornateness and expense to a limited circle of the court and the upper bourgeoisie.

Augsburg Cabinet, Chicago Art Institute

Augsburg Cabinet, Chicago Art Institute


Charity is represented atop the cabinet as a mature woman with small children.  She represents the Greek principle of unselfish love.  Three children accompany the figure of Charity, one as a baby in her arms (sadly missing his head due to damage over time), and the others two entwined about her legs, clutching her hands.

Authors Own

Charity, Augsburg Cabinet


The Arabesque Ornamental forms that cover the outside of the cabinet contrast sharply with the black sheen of its ebony veneer.  These sinuous forms were characteristic across the decorative arts during this period.  The motif was heavily influenced by contemporary engravings of Islamic and Moorish patterns.

Authors Own Detail

Duchamp’s Fountain

I had the pleasure of listening to the BBC podcast of Marcel Duchamp’s Urinal, and must say I was quite taken by the subversive nature of this artist.  I would like to thank Ben Street for sharing this podcast on Facebook.

Duchamps Valise

I looked into some more of Mr. Duchamp’s art, and found that he was a close friend of Peggy Guggenheim, who lived in Venice.  Several of his Box in a Valise (Boite en-valise) are famous 3-d efforts in the shape of a small suitcase or valise, each remarkable on their own. These small cases contain miniature replicas and color reproductions of works by the artist. He gifted one to his patron Guggenheim, which included a small version of the celebrated fountain, perhaps a sample version of the original.   The exhibited urinal has never been found since it was first viewed by the  Society of Independent Artists committee in 1917, subsequently rejected, photographed professionally by Alfred Stieglitz, never to be seen again.

Duchamps Fountain

While ‘modern’ art and the various movements have never been my cup of tea, this story and its destabilizing undertones gives me pause to re-evaluate my personal thoughts on these creations, and the artists.


Francis Willughby, Unsung Natural History Connoisseur, and Batman, The Dark Knight Rises


Sir Issac Newton’s Principia (Philosophaie Naturalis Principia Matrhematica) famously was to be the first book published by the Royal Society, however this was circumvented by another publication, A History of Fishes, by Francis Willughby and John Ray.  Samuel Pepys was president of the society at the time and is named on the title pages of both books.  While Newton is a name that has survived the centuries with his apple and gravity conclusions, Willughby and Ray have fallen aside through the annals of time.

frontspiece willughby and ray

Willughby was once Ray’s student and the two travelled together, studying, collecting birds and fish.  After the untimely death of Willughby, Ray oversaw the culmination of their notes and drawings into three books. These studies are considered the beginning of scientific ornithology taxonomy in Europe, dismissing the older inaccuracies of Aristotle.  Their collection of birds and fish is stored at Willughby’s family home, Wollaton Hall now the Nottingham Natural History Museum.  Wollaton Hall, incidentally, stars as Wayne Manor in the Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises.  Trumped by Willughby, again I believe, Sir Newton.

Batmans House

Batman on the stairs

Thank you for joining me for this edition of Cabinet of Curiosities. Albrecht Durer will be following soon!



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Museum Monday at the Getty

By Mary Jo Gibson

April 6, 2015

Renaissance Splendors of the Northern Italian Courts

The Getty has always embraced new mediums for museum exhibitions by enhancing the museum experience on levels that will reach the widest possible audience.  Their new exposition, Renaissance Splendors of the Northern Italian Courts, launched an accompanying virtual presentation and App displaying illuminated manuscripts alongside comparative art, timelines, and other influences, bringing a fresh new approach to the museum experience.

Saint John the Evangelist

Saint John the Evangelist, Lombardy, early 16th century, Master BF, cutting from an antiphonal, The J. Paul Getty Museum.

Illuminated manuscripts have suffered disbursement over the years, and the Getty retrospective reunites the numerous collections of pages that are physically scattered between disparate locations.  The majority of the objects are leaves (single pages) or cuttings (parts of pages) from choir books. This practice of re-purposing manuscripts whose contents had become outmoded was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. The practice of cutting up illuminated manuscripts led to many irreparable holes in the art historical record, with orphaned fragments making it difficult to reconstruct the full story of the artists’ collaboration on commissions.

Two Saints before God

Two Saints before God, Venice 1410-20, Cristoforo Cortese, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice.

Lives of the Twelve Caesars

Frontspiece, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Venice, 1471, Giovanni Vendramin, artist, Suetonius, author, Archivio Storico Civico e Biblioteca Trivulziana.

A physical presentation of manuscripts suffers a limitation by only allowing visitors to view only a single opening (pair of pages) from a book.  Yet illuminated manuscripts are full of rich decoration and detail throughout.  In contrast, this virtual presentation allows several pages of such manuscripts to be viewed, comparing them with other works of art by the same artist and discussing the varied icons and symbolism.  If biblical history and saint iconography intrigue you, the App shares obscure information on these images alongside commentary on their representation in worship.

The Ascension

The Ascension, Venice 1410-20, Cristoforo Cortese, Private collection, San Francisco.

However, to this viewer, it is the art of these pages that is the star of the show.  The images originated in Milan and Venice, made for Princes, prelates, and other courtiers. While these intricate pages were only available for viewing by a select few, their art is preserved.  An important feature of the online exhibition is the ability to view these pages and their characteristics in hi-res detail.  The array of vibrant color and brilliant gold gives a complete viewing experience, as impressive today as it was 600 years ago.

Calling of the Saints Peter and Andrew

Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew, Private collection, San Francisco.

While exhibitions in museums give a singular experience, virtual presentations complement and extend the relevance of the artwork beyond just the physical pieces. By bringing these artworks together online from several varied sources making the result an international curatorial collaboration.  The resources within the App can be built upon, expanded, and used as educational tools on many levels, allowing the works to become an integral part of study much like any other online course.  The Getty has broken new ground with their App and the virtual exhibition that accompanies the Renaissance Splendors of the Northern Italian Courts. I look forward to many more efforts from them in the virtual museum experience.

transporting the Ark of the Covenant

Transporting the Ark of the Covenant Verona, 1476-1500, Francesco dai Libri, Psalter, Archivio Storico Civico e Biblioteca Trivulziana.

Conversion of Saint Paul

The Conversion of Saint Paul, attributed to Pisanello and the Master of the Antiphonal Q of San Giorgio Maggiore, The J. Paul Getty Museum.

Thank you for viewing my Museum Monday at the Getty, I hope you enjoy the exhibition and the virtual experience as much I enjoyed sharing it with you readers!







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