"Once, an orphan, living by his aunt, was hunting in the forest. Deep in the forest, after have hunted some birds, he decided to take a rest. Sitting on a large stone, he suddenly heard a voice. “Do you want to hear a story?” The young man looked up, and wondered, because nobody was there. “Do you want to hear a story?” repeated the voice. Then the young man realized that the voice was coming from the stone, where he was sitting on. “What are stories?” questioned the man. “Stories happened long time ago, my stories are like stars, they never fade away.” And then the stone narrated one story after another, until the sun reached the horizon. ”Enough for today, come tomorrow, and take with you the other people of your village.” The next day, they came, and again the stone narrated stories until sunset.” This are all my stories, remember them, and tell them to your children, so they can tell them to their children and so on.”
So all stories of humankind came in being. "
During the european Renaissance (14th to the 17th century) kings and regnants, but also artistocrats, rich merchants and mens of science collected curiosities, comprending fossils, minerals, religious or historical artefacts, antiquities, stuffed animals or at least parts of them, and displayed them in “Cabinets of curiosities/wonders” (from the german term Wunderkammer).
One of the first of these cabinets of curiosities was assembled by Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor (ruled 1576-1612) in Prague, mostly for representative purpose. The earliest picture of a cabinet of this kind is the engraving in Ferrante Imperato's (1550- 1625)“Dell'Historia Naturale - From the natural history*”, published in Naples in 1599, presenting the apothecary´s museum.
The picture shows a room, where every part is filled with stuff of all kind, the ceiling is occupied with preserved fishes, stuffed mammals and curious shells, with – as highlight- a stuffed crocodile suspended in the centre. Examples of corals stand on the bookcases. At the left, shelves filled with mineral specimens. Above them, stuffed birds stand against panels inlaid with square polished stone samples. Below them, a range of cupboards with boxes and covered jars - containing presumably animal or plant specimen.
On the right, shelves with books - lots of books- notable in the upper part herbars, with some plants protruding from the pages. In the front, the proud owner of all this wonders is explaining to a curious visitor.
"Musei Wormiani Historia", the frontispiece from the Museum Wormianum depicting Ole Worm's (Germany)cabinet of curiosities. (wikipedia)
In 1584 Giovanni Battista Olivi described from a more scientific point of view the fish-fossils from Bolca (a small town in the vicinity of Verona)– one of the most important lagerstätten for Eocene marine fossils - displayed in the cabinet of curiosities of the veronese apothecary Francesco Calceolari.
Museum Calceolarianum in Verona (Italy) 1622, incision by G. Viscardi, rappresenting the cabinet of curiosities of the veronese apothecary Francesco Calceolari.Eoplatax papilio, one of the most remarkable fish fossils discovered in the sediments of Bolca.
In 1796-1808 the priest Giovanni Serafino Volta published a voluminous monograph work about the rich collection of fossils from Bolca by the aristocrat Giovan Battista Gazola.
The cabinet of curiosities of the veronese aristocrat Gian Battista Gazola in the late 18th century, displaying the fossils of Bolca.
The juxtaposition of such disparate objects encouraged comparisons, finding analogies and parallels and favored the cultural change from a world viewed as static to a dynamic view of endlessly transforming natural history and a historical perspective that led in the seventeenth century to the germs of a scientific view of reality. The most “Cabinets of curiosities” can seen as the first steps to modern museums.
Paranguilla tigrina, one of the first known fossil eels.
The actual modern Museum of Natural History of South Tyrol, located in Bozen – Bolzano, has also its first beginnings in the rich collection of curiosities by the amateur naturalist Georg Gasser (1857-1931). Artist and painter, he dedicated his life to the collection of minerals (2000 specimens), petrefacts (5000 specimens), shells (2000 specimens), stuffed animals or their skeletons, but also ethnographic artefacts of all kind. In 1905 he moved his private collection to the new founded city-museum of Bozen, where it was displayed, after some troubles, until 1934. Unfortunately, during the year 1931 the upcoming political system closed the museum, and Gasser died literally by “broken heart” (he suffered a heart attack after the announcement). In the following years parts of the collection was sold, or got lost.
Only in 1997, after the acquirements of the rest of Gassers collection, a new museum was founded, to revive the old concept - and even if the modern collection doesn’t display a stuffed crocodile - this small museum is worth to wonder about all this "stories" that man has and will collect…
Gasser´s private collection ca. 1900.
The salt-water aquarium in the museum.
Fotos taken in a special exhibit of the Natural History Museum of Bozen (South Tyrol, Italy).
*Imperato,Ferrantio (1599) : Dell'historia naturale di Ferrante Imperato napolitano Libri XXVIII. Nella quale ordinatamente si tratta della diversa condition di miniere, e pietre. Con alcune historie di piante et animali; sin hora non date in luce.