Hans Schlottheim: Automaton in the form of a ‘nef’ or galleon, 1585

Art and ‘junk’ – the Habsburgs and their cabinets of art and curiosities


Over the centuries the Habsburgs amassed a considerable hoard of artworks and objects from nature. The way in which these collections were handled – that is, acquired, organized and exhibited – reveals much about the prevailing spirit of the times. Whereas the medieval treasure consisted of an ‘omnium gatherum’ of objects stored in coffers, the collectors among the Habsburgs, notably Ferdinand of Tyrol and Rudolf II, initiated the first systematic collecting strategies. It was not only the aristocracy but also the educated middle classes who built up collections of objects in order to study the workings of nature. During the Enlightenment the Habsburgs embarked on a reorganization of their holdings.

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