“In the House of wonders”: from fantasy to science

«Dans la Chambre des merveilles»: de la fantaisie à la science

Photo: Caroline Bergeron
Head of hornbill wreathed of Cochinchine française, dating back to the Nineteenth century

They saved the teeth of the narwhal, or the jaws of the juggernaut, presenting sometimes as horns of the unicorn or of the teeth of giants. They brought their treasures of travel at the end of the world and exhibited for the pleasure of their friends. The aristocrats of europe in the Seventeenth century gathered their collections of rare objects in cabinets of curiosity, these ancestors of the museums to which the musée Pointe-à-Callière makes today a tribute.

The exhibition In the House of wonders, presented until January 5, in collaboration with the musée des Confluences of Lyon, takes its name from the German word Wunderkammer, literally ” room of wonders “, which referred to these cabinets of curiosities.

To see some of the works in the exhibition

The collection of the musée des Confluences of Lyon comes from one of two brothers, Caspar and Balthasar de Monconys, the first naturalist, and the second, a great traveller, having lived in the Seventeenth century. At the time, “Hélène Lafont-Couturier, director of the musée des Confluences, the collectors sought to recreate a microcosm of “universal” in this piece, among others, include objects or exotic animals. In the first rooms of the museum, the word “curiosities” takes all its sense, so that there is a sheep with two heads, a crow albino or a hare artificially crowned with a plume of deer. At the time, there was talk of Lepus cornutus, and an image was reproduced in the table encyclopedic and methodical three kingdoms of nature, quadruped, 1768. Commonly known as the jackalope, a cross between a jackrabbit and antelope, the hare would have been affected by a virus that made him grow horns, a-t-on later.

The journal of Balthasar de Monconys, of which extracts are reproduced on the walls, does not lack descriptions strange : “A hunter shot a dragon as big as a fox, which had four feet, a tail, a cane, or about long, two wings of a bat “, he wrote, in 1664.

Throughout the tour, the exhibition takes a more scientific. In particular, there is one of the twenty-eight volumes of the original edition of theEncyclopédie, or Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, published between 1751 and 1772 under the direction of Diderot and d’alembert. It was also used to classify objects of a cabinet of curiosities in different categories : Naturalia, where we classify the specimens of nature, Artificialia, where you will find the objects created by man and dedicated to the science, and Exotica, where are classified the finds exotic.

The Montreal exhibition has been enriched with a variety of objects and specimens from several collections in quebec. One sees there in particular a moose albino captured in the Abitibi region in 1949, and loaned by the Museum of nature and science in Sherbrooke.

In a first room, we learn, moreover, that the cabinet of curiosities was not a phenomenon present in Quebec. “In Quebec, not of rich aristocrats inviting their peers to the family castle to show them to their more recent acquisitions,” on a panel. However, the innkeeper Thomas Delvecchio had opened in Montreal, a first private museum in 1824.

The exhibition also addresses the curious universe of collectors, with interviews conducted with some of them. There are enthusiasts of dolls, toy cars, or boxes. The Museum of nature and science, Sherbrooke has also lent a collection of eggs of wild birds, with effigies of the birds that have laid !

A study, published in 2014 by Hubert Van Gijseghem, also indicates that 94 % of collectors are men, whose average age is 62 years. Some 76 % have started collecting during childhood, 62 % of them are willing to rummage in the bins of their neighbours and 50 % of spouses do not share this passion…

In the House of wonders

At the musée Pointe-à-Callière museum, up to January 5, 2020