Collecting Central Europe  
  The History of Collecting of Central and Eastern Europe  

Prague Castle

Programme 2023

25 April

Sarah Wagner, Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin; Jessica Keating, Carleton College; Corinna Gannon, Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Three ten-minute presentations followed by discussion

The Kunst- und Wunderkammer

Reviving the Berlin Kunstkammer

For three years, researchers from several disciplines studied the Berlin Kunstkammer in a DFG-funded project to find out about how much the collection, housed in the Berlin Palace from 1600 to the end of the nineteenth century, changed over nearly 300 years. The result was a book and a virtual research environment. While the book attempts to examine the biographies of selected objects, a source-based inventory reconstruction was undertaken in the virtual research environment. The talk will briefly present the two results.
Sarah Wagner is an art historian specializing in the cultural technique of collecting, collection documentation and semantic knowledge modelling. She has been working in academic institutions in the fields of exhibition and collection development since 2012. Recently, she published her dissertation on the history and development of the Kunst- und Wunderkammer in the museum. She is in the process of developing digital indexing models for the colonial contexts of the collections at the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin.

Artistic Formation in the Kunstkammer of Rudolf II

The art collection, or Kunstkammer, of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612) was filled with rare, precious and exotic objects, many of which were stored in the drawers of cabinets. Most of the unworked natural objects (naturalia) stored in these drawers—such as minerals, shells, and animal horns—were irregular and indeterminate in shape. These unworked specimens shared characteristics with the carved and mounted naturalia that were housed on tables and open shelves of the Kunstkammer. As such, the specimens stored in drawers were opportunities for imperial artists to determine form and seek out its various uses and meanings. This paper asks: how does our view of the imperial Kunstkammer shift if, in addition to a site of storage and an instrument of organization, we consider the cabinet drawer to be a site for viewing a natural specimen as an art object existing in potentia?

Jessica Keating is Associate Professor of Art History at Carleton College. Her research and teaching addresses the history of art in early modern Europe, focusing particularly on the intertwined histories of collecting; technology; cultural contact and exchange; and empire and sovereignty. Her book, Animating Empire: Automata, the Holy Roman Empire and the Early Modern World (Penn State University Press, 2018) explores the religious and political histories of six clockwork automata that were produced and collected in the Holy Roman Empire during the second half of the sixteenth century. Currently, she is working on the question of how the Kunstkammer of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (r. 1576-1612) represented sovereignty. She is also in the process of completing a short book, Impossible Nature: The World of Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

The Kunstkammer of Emperor Rudolf II as a Magical Space: Challenges and Possibilities to Approach a Lost Collection

Research on the Rudolfine Kunstkammer is made complicated by a number of factors. The
collection and the rooms that housed the Kunstkammer are no longer intact. Therefore, one needs to seek innovative approaches to reconstruct the collecting space, its contents and the underlying concept. This talk will look at the Prague Kunstkammer from the perspective of natural magic and alchemy, which Emperor Rudolf II was demonstrably fond of and present possible approaches to collecting items and to the rooms that once stored them. Magical and alchemical source material will be discussed as a possible key to unsolved questions, which might also be transferred to other collections of the time.

Corinna Gannon is an assistant curator at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt am Main. From 2018 until 2022 she was research assistant at the department of art history at Goethe University and conducted a project on a portrait collection of Frankfurt physicians. Her monograph Die Porträtsammlung der Dr. Senckenbergischen Stiftung. Frankfurter Medizin- und Kunstgeschichten was published in 2022, while she also worked on her PhD project dedicated to the Rudolfine collection. Last November, she submitted her dissertation
Efficacious artefacts. Visual strategies of natural magic in the Kunstkammer of Rudolf II.


Lecture of ca. 40 minutes followed by discussion


Recorded guided tour, followed by q&a and discussion


Three ten-minute presentations followed by discussion