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The Kunstkammer principle

The Humboldt Forum will rekindle some of the ideas behind the Berlin Kunstkammer (cabinet of art) that was housed on the site – by being a place of inquiry into the world and where art and science creatively intertwine.

In the 16th century a new phenomenon arose in many European royal courts: the Kunstkammer and Wunderkammer or 'cabinet of art and marvels' which aimed to unite all elements in the world in the microcosm of a collection. Objects from local and foreign cultures were divided into the categories of naturalia, scientifica, and artificialia, but were also sometimes arranged and handled more freely. The Berlin Palace was no exception to this development and artefacts of both local and non-European origin were placed on display in an area covering several rooms. They included objects from the natural world, from art and science, and historical artefacts. It was hoped that visitors to the royal cabinet of art would gain a deeper understanding of the world as a whole by being able to view, arrange, and handle the various objects gathered there. The collection was simultaneously an archive and a space for ideas. Crucial to this philosophy was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s idea of a 'theatre of knowledge', which he devised with an eye to the Kunstkammer in the Berlin Palace. For Leibniz, the cabinet of art, laboratory-like in character, offered near utopian possibilities to generate and disseminate knowledge. In the 19th century, cabinets of art were handed over to public use, forming part of museums or university study collections.