The Hunterian: Cabinet of Curiosities

I found myself sneakily taking pictures of the Hunterian museums displays this afternoon, like a child in their parents office, trying to avoid being caught.

The Hunterian is a museum displaying John Hunter’s collection of medical instruments and biological specimens. The collection was purchased by the government in 1799 and given to the Company (later The Royal College) of Surgeons. The collection formed the basis for a museum constructed as part of the new Royal College of Surgeons of London’s building on the south side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

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Interior of the ‘wunderkammer’

The dim lighting in the main space which exhibits the specimens gives the space a rather eerie feel. Marveling at all the different species displayed I notice it is somewhat organized. Marsupial families are put next to flying fish and deformed Elephant tusks, but overall the specimens are categorized by type of organism; I think.. It is an archive of sorts, cataloging animals, humans and diseases. displayed in an overwhelming manner. A cabinet of curiosity, imposing and intriguing. The way the the glass jars full of alien looking matter are haphazardly displayed makes you want to explore each and every shelf. So much information compressed in a small space..

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Because you see all the specimens in such a close up manner, some posed as if they were giving birth, others made with ‘peek-holes’ into their bellies exposing their intestines, it makes you experience the once living things in the jars more closely. All are labeled with their Latin name and given some annotation as to what it is. The first time I experienced this exhibition and saw the hacked off foot of someone with ‘elephantitis’ it made me question the ethics behind all of it, goes to show that how you display an object can really influence the mental proximity of your experience.

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One Response to The Hunterian: Cabinet of Curiosities

  1. Manolis Stavrakakis says:

    fabulous .
    You should also visit http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/zoology
    and the Pitt Rivers in Oxford (THIS IS A MUST if you haven’t been already) https://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/