A Window onto Nature and Art

A historical-critical assessment of the Brandenburg-Prussian Kunstkammer

The Kunstkammer, which was once housed in the Berlin Palace, was the origin of the Berlin museum landscape. The collection – which was founded in the sixteenth century and whose lifespan stretched well into the nineteenth – brought together objects from nature, the arts and science. Today, many of the objects that previously belonged to the Kunstkammer are distributed among a number of Berlin’s museums. This DFG research project – for which the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin are cooperating with the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin – seeks to explore this collection and the paths that led the objects within it to the museums that currently house them.   

The aim is to sketch out a history of the Berlin Kunstkammer that is based on the biographies of the objects. How did the objects end up in the collection? In what contexts did they exist before they became part of the Berlin Kunstkammer? How were they repeatedly positioned in new taxonomic, narrative, spatial, curatorial and user-based contexts within the collection? What was the nature of their allocation to the museums that began to emerge at the turn of the nineteenth century? And what ascriptions of meaning accompanied these processes? 

Departing from questions such as these, the aim is to take a look at the Kunstkammer in its various historical stages of transformation. These include the rearrangement processes in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but also the transformation of the collection after it gave up various fields of objects in the nineteenth century. Attention will be paid to the enormous enrichment of the Kunstkammer through extensive private collections in this later phase of its evolution, as well as the role of its objects in the ensuing founding of the various museums. This object-biographical perspective forms the foundations for an effort to shed light on previously neglected aspects of the history of Berlin’s museums by way of an analysis of the Kunstkammer.

Cooperation partners: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Hermann von Helmholtz-Zentrum für Kulturtechnik), the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin (Humanities of Nature)
Project funding: German Research Foundation (DFG)
Investigative Team: Prof Dr Michael Eissenhauer (project management), Dr Angela Fischel (project coordination), Dr Eva Dolezel (research associate),Annika Thielen (student research assistant)
Contact: Dr Eva Dolezel
Duration: November 2018 to October 2021