Offered at Gettysburg College in the Fall of 2012 this interdisciplinary course explores the quest for knowledge undertaken by Renaissance naturalists and collectors, whose wonders of nature and artifice were displayed in elaborate gardens, illustrated books and remarkable cabinets of curiosities.
Students examine the influence of mercantile trade and geographic exploration and the role of art, print culture and innovations in technologies. We look at how the collections of political rulers, such as the Hapsburgs and the Medici, expressed their personalities, ambitions and power, as well as examining the collections of various merchants and early naturalists.
The course culminates in a hands-on group project; the creation of a "Gettysburg cabinet" in the Gettysburg College Schmucker Art Gallery. Students have learned to work with collectors and collections, how to organize, display and research material that led to our understanding of the natural world, and how to relate this to the history of science and society.
Students curated this remarkable exhibition as part of a new team-taught course at Gettysburg College, ARTH/IDS 284 Wonders of nature and artifice: the Renaissance quest for knowledge. In both the course and exhibition, students have learned about the interdisciplinary nature of knowledge and the powerful dynamics behind scientific discovery and societal forces.
The students took as their starting point the Curiosity Cabinets and Chambers of Wonders from the days of the Renaissance. Such collections featured an astounding variety of works of nature and artifice, juxtaposed in ways we no longer see today. We can see this dynamic array in the images shown below of Ferrante Imperato’s Natural History museum and a Flemish Baroque painting of Archduke Albert and Isabella visiting a collector’s cabinet. Among the bounty of these collections, we see alligators, marble statuettes, corals and shells, globes, exquisite paintings, monkeys, marvelous flowers, unusual clocks, birds, precious gems, skeletons and books. The Renaissance, known as a rebirth of Classical Antiquity, was also an age of global exploration, and collectors were driven by curiosity and a sense of wonder about what seemed to be an ever-expanding world. One result of this passion for collecting was to provide centers of study and source material for their quest to find order in nature.
In this same spirit, our students brought together the College’s own wonders of nature and artifice for The Gettysburg Cabinet. Each student carried out research on an object or set of objects of their choice, and together they have presented highlights of their work in this catalog. Bridging the gap between the Renaissance and our own time was quite a challenge, but the students rose to the occasion marvelously.
This show was curated by: Danielle Berardinelli, Rebecca Deffler, Madison Desmond, Jill Duranko, Peter Flood, Emily Francisco, Devin Garnick, Joshua Griffiths, Lauren Kauffman, Rose Kell, Sara Ketelsen, Marissa Mellan, Dina Mohamed-Aly, Joanna Myers, Sean Pethybridge, Joshua Poorman, Molly Reynolds and Shane Swink.