Collector's Cabinet

Collecting natural history specimens began among doctors and pharmacists in the 16th century, and was taken up by European aristocrats. It continued as a popular hobby for the well-to-do through the 19th century. The craze for amassing collections of shells, insects, taxidermic specimens of animals and minerals was preoccupied with creating comprehensive systems of classifying natural phenomena. The impulse to classify was accompanied by a fascination with exotic species, and also with oddities and aberrations such as two-headed snakes.

Collectors did not only accumulate objects: science met art in the production of natural history prints and books. A prototypical 18th century collector was the Dutch apothecary Albertus Seba, who recruited artists to document his holdings in a series of copperplate etchings which he published to order as his Thesaurus. Marine life was also featured in the great Enlightenment Encyclopedia compiled in 18th century France by Diderot and Alembert. Below are links to prints from Seba’s compendium and other such books available from us, as well as paintings and prints from the 19th and 20th centuries.

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