| Thursday, 03.10.2019 Liminalität in Museen und Sammlungen

Between Nature and Art: Liminality and Representation in the Early Modern English Cabinet

This paper examines the dual liminalities of engraved nautilus shells, natural historical printed books, and related objects in the Early Modern English collection, and Anglo-Dutch Still Life painting of English collections. In considering the problematic Englishness of the English Cabinet as opposed to the Continental Wunderkammer, this paper exams how the Cabinet is represented by largely Dutch artists working as immigrants and refugees.  These ‘pronkstilleven’ of Cabinet objects blur national boundaries, as well as those of representation and presentation, with the completed painting often hanging in the same space as the collection depicted. Additionally, in showing objects that themselves depict natural historical specimens and ornaments on their physical surfaces, the collection painting calls into question the roles of layers of representation in the aesthetic of the Cabinet, and the question of where one depiction begins and the next ends.
In a case study of two nautilus cups also depicted in pronkstilleven painting, I trace some possible print sources for their engraved images. I shall also link these engraved specimens with the depiction of marine life in adjacent scientific books in the early English Royal Society, specifically by a close examination of the frontispiece to the Icthyographia of Francis Willoughby. In treating objects on the limn between art and nature, artifice and growth, and Dutch and English representation, this paper uses liminality as a way of re-examining the status of English Cabinet objects and their depictions.