The Return of the Cabinet of Wonders
A scholarly work on the genesis and transformation of the art museum from the 18th century to the present day. Full of illuminating portraits and hitherto undiscovered gems, this is the last work of the great essayist and man of letters Henning Ritter.
The art museum, that great crucible of European culture and taste, has seen some dramatic changes in its time. It all began with the closure of the wunderkammern, those elite repositories of culture and curiosities hoarded by the aristocracy. During the French Revolution such collections came under threat from vandalism, while Napoleon’s armies were bringing back paintings and statues from all over Europe to Paris. Collections and looted treasures were stored together in the Louvre — a temporary repository which became the first de facto art museum.
Having delineated the background and evolution of the art museum, Ritter focuses on examining the controversial history of the concept per se, using Berlin’s Museum Island as a paradigm. So, for example, paradoxically the integration of contemporary (in this case late 19th century) art was considered as a way of breathing new life into the museum as a conservational palladium of the past.