Last time I travelled to Berlin, it was with a clear idea of visiting the Wunderkammer Olbricht – a place I have heard of but never had a chance seeing until now. It is the sixth cabinet of curiosities I had the pleasure to explore around Europe since the start of Stained Jabot blog. For the better understanding of the importance of the Olbricht´s collection and for the ones who are not familiar with the wunderkammer world, I will summarise the existing wunderkammer (cabinets of curiosities) categories:
Cabinets of curiosities are museum-like collections and usually contain specimens that can be sorted into roughly five groups. For example Exotica – it includes curious objects from foreign lands. A good example of a wunderkammer full of Exotica specimens that I have visited is The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Then there is Artificialia a man-made pieces with exceptional skills in applied and fine art. Naturalia is focused on marvels of nature like plants, animals or minerals (See La Specola visit in Florence). Scientifica – scientific instruments that help understanding the world, like astrolabes, compasses or globes. And then there is Mirabilia – magic-related items like a unicorn horn, fairy or mermaid skeleton, crystal ball between other specimens (see Viktor Wynd Museum in London).
Olbricht’s chamber of wonders contains the finest examples from all of these categories. Opened for public view in 2010, it is currently one of the most accurate versions of the original wunderkammer from the 17th century. Lovers of curiosities can enjoy beautiful pieces from as early as Renaissance and Baroque periods together with more recent but not less spectacular objects displayed nearby them.
This exhibition of the collection was curated by Georg Laue – a worldwide acknowledged expert of everything wunderkammer related. Some of the most recent additions to the collection come from the famous private Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé’s collection.
Wunderkammer Olbricht holds an impressive and probably the largest public collection of Memento Mori art objects.
Memento Mori translated from Latin means “remember you must die”. A basic Memento Mori usually has a skull (image, engraving or sculpture) but other objects can also commonly found like for example an hourglass, clock, used candles, rotting fruit, flowers snails or music instruments. All of that symbolize the transience of time and earthly possessions. It first appeared in 1500 and ivory was one of the usual materials for making them. Memento Mori figures were usually very small and easy to carry around. Back then skulls were not impressing or scaring the viewer. It was normally understood as a kind of carpe diem message, and a reminder that the physical body is temporary.
In the following 17th century Memento Mori was joined by Vanitas – paintings with a very similar subject. It is also possible to view a few beautiful examples at the Wunderkammer Olbricht.
I have to admit that little Memento Mori treasures were my favorites from this collection and not only because of the fascinating subject of time and life. The craftsmanship of the artisans who worked hundreds of years ago is mind-blowing and difficult to be challenged by contemporary professionals.
Other highlights from the Wunderkammer Olbricht are very rare 17th-century ivory figures, one of which even has an original notebook with sketches for making it by Stefan Zick who is one of the most valued ivory masters from the history. This less than 15cm small figure of a pregnant woman has all the body organs that are removable. Medical students used this type of figures for their studies in the past.
Even though I am so fascinated with the antique gems of this collection, there are also amazing contemporary examples at the Wunderkammer Olbricht. My favorite is a sphere made entirely of mice skulls.
At the end of the exhibition, there was a video presentation by the owner of the collection Thomas Olbricht and curator Georg Laue. After having watched it I had to come back and review some of the items displayed and from the passion of Mr. Olbricht while talking about this collection, I understood that it will be worth coming back here in some years as it will certainly grow larger.
The amazing exposition of The Wunderkammer Olbricht is definitely worth your time in Berlin if you are interested in the unusual and unique world of cabinets of curiosities.