Collectors and Collections

This is from Patrick Mauries’ wonderful, richly illustrated book ‘Cabinets of Curiosities’ which is brilliant: “The story of cabinets of curiosities is above all that of a handful of figures scattered throughout the length and breadth of Europe in the age of the Baroque. John Tradescant and Elias Ashmole in Oxford, Addrovandi and Manfredo Settala … Continue reading

20,000 Days on Earth

This is a sort-of biography of Nick Cave, ex Brithday Party, Bad Seed, Grinderman and, well, rock icon. It is shaped as if it is a day in his life, but it is far more complex than that. It begins with him lying in bed waiting for the alarm clock to go. He emerges, in … Continue reading

The Gleaners & I

This is an extraordinarily intelligent and insightful film by Agnes Varda who, as the title suggests, is a gleaner herself, who travels across France in search of people who survive on what the world leaves behind. She begins with paintings showing women – they were always women – picking up the sheaves of grain after … Continue reading

Wars and Invention

This is from a book the Phantom Museum in which various writers were let loose on the Welcome collection of medical curiosities. This is Gaby Wood on Phantom Limbs: “The American Civil War saw unprecedented numbers of men made limbless; Silas Weir Mitchell’s early estimate of 15,000 tuned out to be conservative – there were … Continue reading

Industrial Limbs

This is a letter typed by a man with no limbs after being fitted with artificial arms. I love the fact that he ties so many things together – the Enlightenment was a wideranging movement, encompassing art, science, reform, philosophy. He seems to be saying an advance in one field suggests progress in the others, … Continue reading

Peter the Great Collector

This is from ‘Finders Keepers, Eight Collectors by Rosamond Wolff Purcell & Stephen Jay Gould:, in which they cite Peter as one of the few who deserved to be called Great. With his “gargantuan carouses, his terrifying cruelties, his incessant wars, his obsessive need to learn and experience, his overwhelming drive to modernize and make … Continue reading

On Collecting

From medieval times, or perhaps earlier, people of learning were also people who collected, and cabinets of curiosities, or Kunstkammers became foci for learned people to discuss and exchange ideas. This is from ‘Finders Keepers, Eight Collectors by Rosamond Wolff Purcell & Stephen Jay Gould: “.. our collectors do hold one trait in common – … Continue reading

English Weather

The English are famous for complaining about their weather, so this piece is useful as it shows how long this tradition has existed. This is from Horace Walpole, writing to George Montagu in 1768: “I perceive the deluge fell upon you before it reached us. It began here but on Monday last, and then rained … Continue reading

Migratory Labour

One of the commonest characters in folk tales is that of the young man on the road in search of his fortune. This is from the early apprentice system when the recently qualified, but lacking in funds to establish their own business would become a freelancer, or journeyman. But there were also trades such as … Continue reading