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History

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Cabinets of curiosities, (also known as Kunstkabinett, Kunstkammer, Wunderkammer, Cabinets of Wonder, and wonder-rooms), are collections of objects that became popular in the Renaissance. They tended to be collected by wealthy individuals, who had the time and money to invest in creating a collection of items they found intertesting.

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Cabinets can have themes, for example “natural history cabinet(s)”, art based ones, or science based ones. There were also early medical based collections that were created to help medical students and other doctors. Thomas Dent Mütter (1811–1859)’s collection is a famous medical example that looked at various deformities and abnormalities, which eventually become the basis for the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

A number of other museums were originally private collections, with the British Museum being one of them. The British Museum was started in 1753 using the collections of Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753), who donated his collection after his death to the King for “the benefit of the nation”. His collection included books, dried plants, works of art, and historical artefacts from countries like Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The books and manuscripts in his collection ended up becoming part of the “foundation collection” of the British Library, rather than remaining in the museum - the British Library was part of the British Museum until 1972 and had been based in the museum reading room from the time it was built in the 1850s.

There are four groups of cabinets:
1. Artifcialia, which are items made or modified by people – including works of art.
2. NaturaliaThe medical cabinets could be included in this section or the scientitfica one, with a lot of naturalia collections having preserved examples of deformed animals.
3. Exotica, which can also include plants and animals. This would include examples of manmade fake creatures, including those that had been put together from parts from a number of real animals – for example a basilisk which was made using the head of a chicken, and the body made from a toad and a snake.
4. Scientifica, which included scientific instruments.

References:
1) Cabinet of curiosities
2) Mütter Museum
3) British Museum
4) British Museum Reading Room
5) Cabinet of curiosities