ANN: Early Modern Collecting and the Shifting Cabinet of Curiosities – Lecture by Patricia Rocco (Collecting and Display, 15 May 2023 18:00 BST, zoom only)

Ulysses Aldrovandi had established one of the largest naturalist collections of his day in 16th century Bologna, including all manner of exotic flora and fauna. His collection was meant to be categorized, catalogued, and illustrated for the benefit of scientific study and learning. At his death, his collection was deeded to the city and university for study, and eventually came to be part of the collection of the 17th century aristocrat, Ferdinando Cospi. However, at this stage the collection had shifted from purely a scientific endeavor to one focusing on wonder and meraviglia, a true Wunderkammer or cabinet of curiosities as befitted the interests of its owner. This talk traces the aesthetic choices and intellectual modifications / mutability that were necessary for that transformation to take place and that made one collection drastically different in form and function than the other.

Aldrovandi’s collection was intent on collecting all specimens available to create an encyclopedic collection of nature for the serious study of scientists as well as artists, whereas Cospi’s collection was that of an aristocrat intent on eliciting wonder and awe from his illustrious guests. The Wunderkammer was modelled on the aristocratic collections of prestigious families such as the Medici, whose expected audience were intimate and important friends, as opposed to Aldrovandi’s more open and democratic focus on sharing with the scholarly public. Therefore, this collection went from the pedagogical and scientific to the more conspicuous display of soft power and cultural prestige.

Patricia Rocco received her PhD from the Graduate Center, CUNY, and is an Adjunct Professor of Art History at Hunter College, Manhattan School of Music, and Cooper Union. She has published articles on women artists, gender, and material culture, especially women’s work with textiles. Her book “The Devout Hand: Women, Virtue, and Visual Culture in Early Modern Italy” has recently been published by McGill-Queen’s University Press. Rocco has also published two chapters on popular prints and games in the early modern world: “Virtuous Vices: Giuseppe Maria Mitelli’s Gambling Prints and the Social Mapping of Leisure and Gender in Post- Tridentine Bologna,” in “Playthings in Early Modernity, Party Games, Word Games, Mind Games”, edited by Allison Levy, Medieval Institute Publications, 2017; “The World Upside Down: Giuseppe Maria Mitelli’s Games and the Performance of Identity in the Early Modern World,” in “Games and Game Playing in Early Modern Art and Literature”, edited by Robin O’ Bryan, Amsterdam University Press, 2018.


Please note: you need to register by Sunday evening (May 14th).

To attend online please register with the Institute of Historical Research, Collecting and Display and a link will be sent to you on the day:

The session will be held via zoom only. We look forward to welcoming you!

Convenors: Susan Bracken, Andrea M. Gáldy, Adriana Turpin