Oxford is probably the ideal place to house a “wunderkammer”, or even a few of them. It is a university city that attracts curious and knowledge-seeking souls since before the 12th century when Oxford University starts appearing in historical records. During my stay here I had a clear idea to visit Pitt Rivers collection but got distracted on almost every corner on my short way to it. Radcliffe Camera looks like an antique jewelry box, Bridge of Sighs reminds of so many stories from the past, and all the 19th-century buildings, more recent but drawing inspiration from the best of the past got my attention easily.
One of these 19th-century buildings belongs to the University Museum of Natural History. Entering through its Gothic Revival style hall filled with columns and covered with a spectacular glass roof I arrived at the additional building added by a request of Pitt Rivers himself and this is where the largest wunderkammer I have visited so far was located.
Augustus Henry Lane – Fox Pitt Rivers also known as Pitt Rivers was a noted English scientist who also served as a military for thirty-two years. It is during his overseas service where his interest in archaeology and anthropology began. At the age of fifty-three Pitt Rivers inherited a fortune and thanks to it could go on with his exploration and studies. Thirty years later, in 1884 he founded The Pitt Rivers Museum and donated his collection to it. Back then it consisted of 22.000 items. At the time of my visit, it already had 550.000 items with 55.000 of them on display.
While trying to get me a selfie in front of one of the densely filled walls, a very friendly museum employee called Mike asked if he could help me and, after my moment of vanity, explained some of the very interesting details about the museum displays. For example, the museum´s collection is arranged typologically and not chronologically as in many other museums. This is an easy way to sort a small personal cabinet of curiosities but in a spacious three levels of Pitt Rivers Museum, it translated in numerous little universes, kind of separate independent museums.
My favorite ones were the masks, ivory artwork, Japanese netsuke and… a section called “The Treatment of Dead Enemies”. Although I have spent a lot of time looking around the “Card Games” section, armor made from the animal-origin materials, and… the rest of the curiosities on display that I had the time to see.
I am not sure of how long exactly I stayed there but it was already dark outside when I left. Another pleasant overdose of information with more material for my imaginary universes and many new questions, of course.
Pitt Rivers Museum is definitely a must-see if you are visiting Oxford and even worth a trip to only visit it if you are a curiosities lover like Stained Jabot is.
For more information visit the official website of the museum.