Muſæum Tradescantianum

From the catalog of the Tradescant Collection published by John Tradescent (1656).

Variety of Rarities.
  • Indian morris-bells of ſhells and fruits.
  • Indian muſicall inſtruments.
  • Indian Idol made of Feathers, in ſhape Of a Dog.
  • Indian fiddle.
  • Spaniſh Timbrell.
  • Inſtrument which the Indians found at Sun-riſing.
  • Portugall muſicall Inſrument like a Hoop, with divers braſſe plates.
  • A choice piece of preſpective in a black Ivory caſe.
  • A Canow & Picture of an Indian with His Bow and Dart, taken 10 leagues at Sea. An°. —76.
  • A bundle of Tobacco, Amazonian.
  • Birds-neſts from China.
  • Indian Conjurers rattle, wherewith he Calls up Spirits.
  • Indian Pa God.
  • The Idol Ossiris. Anubis, the Sheep, the Beetle, the Dog, which the Ægyptians worſhipped. Mr. Sandys.
  • A Gamaha with Jeſus, Joſeph and Mary, in Italian Capitall letters.
  • A Gamaha with a Fiſh in it.
Garments, Veſtures, Habits,
  • An Arabian veſt.
  • A Ruſſian veſt.
  • A Portugall habit.
  • A Turkiſh veſt.
  • A Brackmans veſt of Leaves of Aloes.
  • A Virginian habit of Beares-skin.
  • A Babylonian veſt.
  • A Greinland-habit.
  • A Match-coat
  • Match-coat from Greenland of the Intrails of Fiſhes.
  • Pohatan, King of Virginia’s habit all embroidered with ſhells, or Roanoke.
  • A Match-coat of Virginia made of Racoune-skins.
  • Crownes {Indian. Amazonian.
  • Swabes ſuit.
  • Henry the 8 his {Stirrups. Haukes-hoods. Gloves.

Many museums (including Harvard’s Museum of Natural History) started off as “cabinets of curiosities” which brought together oddities from all over the world. Items where usually grouped by type which took them out of their context but served to highten their strangeness.

In Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America, author Karen Ordahl Kupperman puts the development of these collections into an interesting historical perspective. They happened to coincide with the beginnings of England’s colonization of the New World—at just the time when humanists where turning to the ancient world for guidance on the present.

An interesting parallel was being drawn from Tacitus who portrayed the ancient Britons and Germans as honest and straightforward, in contrast to the sophisticated and manipulative Romans. Many English writers in the 17th century couldn’t help but see this same contrast between the earthly Indians and the increasingly cosmopolitan English.

The “search for the new”, exemplified by the museums, was unsettling for those who saw in it a reflection of English society’s decline into trivialities.

» Posted: Tuesday, October 25, 2005 | Permanent Link