Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Demon Automaton From Milano And The Cabinets Of Curiosity

The demon Automaton potentially created by the Milanese collector, Manfredo Settala

What exactly is a collector? Can the term be defined by an individual that gathers up items around a central idea or construct or is it more related to an individual that amasses a plethora of objects of any sort? This is the fine line between someone such as Fred Sanford and in this particular story, Manfredo Settala.

Without collectors and those that want the past to live on, we would be doomed to repeat history at the cost of losing our sense of identity. Objects from the past, especially those in a historical reference always tether humanity, to the roots of where stories emanate. 

At no other time in recorded history was there such a boom in curiosity and progression of knowledge. The Renaissance was the age of enlightenment and gave rise to critical thinking, a rebirth in artistry and architecture and most of all helped to shift the general populace mindset to a more earth bound perspective. 

Luckily for us, an individual such as Manfredo Settala was there as a craftsman and collector. His collection inspired awe and wonder and the "Wunderkammer" would build the foundations of today's concept of a museum.

Wunderkammer or "Cabinets of Curiosity"
"...a goodly, huge cabinet, wherein whatsoever the hand of man by exquisite art or engine has made rare in stuff, form or motion; whatsoever singularity, chance, and the shuffle of things hath produced; whatsoever Nature has wrought in things that want life and may be kept; shall be sorted and included." 
[Sir Francis Bacon]

Mechanical instrument that was part of Manfredo Settala's collection
Mechanical instrument that was part of Manfredo Settala's collection
Section below copied from Bibliodyssey

"It's little wonder that the drama and embellishment of the baroque aesthetic gave rise to a 17th century enthusiasm for the wunderkammer or 'cabinets of curiosity' that would eventually beget our modern museums. I was a little surprised in reading around at just how popular they were across Europe. Increased world travel and trade brought a variety of oddities back to the monied elite who would display them in order to demonstrate a deeper understanding of their changing world.

One such famous collector was Manfredo Settala
(1600-1680) of Milan who Filippo Picinelli described as "the Archimedes of our century". Settala was from a noble family and had an opportunity to travel abroad early in life when his fascination for collecting all manner of unusual naturalistic, ethnological and artistic specimens began. He was also interested in science and became proficient in metalwork and the instruments he crafted on a lathe were added to his collection; which also included a huge library.

During the 1660s a catalogue of his 3000-odd specimens was commissioned and artistic contributions to the inventory were made by Domenico Tencala, Francisco Porro, Giovanni Battista, Francisco Volpino, Alfonso Coast, Carolo a Sole and Carolo Galluzio. The images here are from the 3rd volume (the first 2 are housed in the library at Modena) and depict vases, clocks, animals, skulls, jewellery, crockery, precious stones and crystals and the instruments made by Settala himself. Some of these latter objects were modified with for instance magnets (eg. the fish in the image above would spin) so as to increase their novelty value."

Sketch of Manfredo Settala in his library or Wunderkammer
Oil painting of Manfredo Settala
Sketch of Manfredo Settala's Wunderkammer, translated to Collection of Curiosities