I caught up with the private art tour group this week for the March tour through the Kunstkammer, or Cabinet of Curiosities at the Kunsthistoriches (Art History) Museum, recently reopened after a ten year restoration process. I had been looking forward to my tour this week and it did not disappoint.
About ten years ago I viewed Dresden’s Grünes Gewolbe, one of Europe’s largest Kunstkammers and found it fascinating. Hmm, Dresden is but 4 hours away. Maybe it’s time for me to revisit the Grünes Gewolbe to compare it to Vienna’s Kunstkammer?
Kunstkammers fascinate me, which is the whole idea. Wandering through them is like wandering through the collections of an eccentric old uncle’s home, if one’s uncle were wealthy or royal, that is. Everyone else we just refer to as “hoarders” and produce television shows about them.
There are over 2.200 objects in the Kunstkammer and our guide, Alexandra, proved heroic in her ability to keep us engaged for the two-hour tour, deftly maneuvering us around the microphone-assisted Slovakian tour guide and her large gaggle and shooing away the cling-ons hoping for a freebie tour.
And now for some highlights…
A chalice and the “straws” used by priests, as touching one’s lips to the vessel was forbidden in the 12th century. In all of the museums I have wandered, I have never seen religious straws.
One of the first known vessels cut from a single piece of bergkristall, a clear quartz.
Also of bergkristall is this centerpiece of a feathered bird.
The “Spielbrett” with “Langen Puff.” Wealthy gentlemen used to escape the doldrums of their homes to play these games with gentlemen of similar ilk.
There were often single ladies at the places where the gentlemen played their games, shall we say.
Several galleries filled with carved ivory from elephants and walrus, and polished with the skin of manta rays. I would like to know how it was determined that manta ray skin made a fine polishing cloth.
A drinking game automaton. No, really. Diana and the Centaur moved across the table; when the dogs barked, the automaton would stop and the Centaur would “shoot” his arrow at someone. That person was then required to drink.
This is a collection of tankards. Folks in the 17th century knew how to party.
In the category of Curiosities and Exotica was this preserved Bezoar from the 1600’s. A Bezoar, I have learned, is a ball of swallowed foreign material from an animal that collects in the stomach and fails to pass through the intestines. People believed it would save them from being poisoned.
There was so much more that we explored, but I’ll end with a bust of Empress Maria Theresa’s personal physician. We all have busts of our physicians in our homes, so I am just as surprised as you that this would be considered a curiosity.