Chamber of Art and Curiosities, Ambras Castle

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The 'Small Armoury', part of the Chamber of Art and Wonders, Ambras Castle

The Chamber of Art and Wonders ("Kunst- und Wunderkammer") is a cabinet of rarities - often, but misleadingly labelled cabinet of curiosities - created by Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria, sovereign ruler of the County of Tyrol and Further Austria, in the 16th century. Ferdinand II, son of Emperor Ferdinand I, was one of history's most prominent collectors of art. The cultured humanist from the House of Austria accommodated his world-famous collections in a museum built specifically for that purpose (1572-1583, supplement 1589). So, the Lower Castle as building itself became an exhibit, making Ambras Castle, Innsbruck today the oldest museum in the world. As the only Renaissance Kunstkammer of its kind to have been preserved at its original location, the Chamber of Art and Wonders represents an unrivalled cultural monument.

Representing an outstanding example of a late Renaissance encyclopedic collection of its genre, it continues to be displayed at Ambras Castle in Innsbruck, the same setting since its inception.[1] Ferdinand II, like many other rulers of the Renaissance, was interested in promoting the arts and sciences. The Habsburg Archduke spent considerable time and money on his unique collection: armour, weapons, portraits, natural objects, rarities, 'wonders of nature', most recent scientific instruments, musical instruments, precious items, and so on; which in later times should be classified as artificialia, naturalia, scientifica, exotica, and mirabilia.

Beside the "Chamber of Art and Wonders" Ambras Castle is home to a famous collection of armouries and early modern weapons feature masterpieces of the European armourer's art from the Renaissance; Archduke Ferdinand II was the first in the history of the museum to present his collection according to a systematic concept within a specially constructed museum building. The "Glassammlung Strasser" (Strasser Collection of Glass) boasts precious glassware from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The "Habsburger Porträtgalerie" (Habsburg Portrait Gallery) laid out on three floors is open to visitors in summer. The paintings include works by famous painters such as Hans Burgkmair, Lucas Cranach the Younger, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Peter Paul Rubens, Diego Velázquez, and others. Today, these collections at Ambras are administered by the KHM-Museumsverband, as the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

The Collection[edit]

A variety of uncommon objects are on display, including a woodcarving of "Death" by Hans Leinberger, goblets, coral collections and artifacts, glass figures, centerpieces, mechanical toys, clocks and various instruments.[1] Also, Asiatica of the period are included with a suit of samurai armor, a Ryukyu bowl, and a silk painting from China.[1]


The Ambras collection contains a number of unique portraits, and some of the subjects were perceived at the time as "Wonder of Nature".[2] The painters are not known. Giants and dwarfs, people with hirsutism and others, are shown, including:

Vlad Ţepeş[edit]

Portrait of Vlad Ţepeş, better known as "Dracula"

Vlad III the Impaler's depiction was painted about one century after his reign and represents one of his earliest portraits. It is intended not only to show him as a ruler but also to be a "psychogram of evil".[2]

Petrus Gonsalvus[edit]

The collection has a painting of Petrus Gonsalvus and his family, as well as other people who display an extreme form of hirsutism, also called Ambras syndrome in 1933 in reference to its depiction at this collection.[2] The life of Pedro Gonzalez has been well chronicled as he became famous during his lifetime on account of his condition. Born in 1537 in Tenerife, he first came to the court of Henry II, King of France, who sent him to the court of Margaret of Parma, regent of the Netherlands. He got married there and some of his children were also afflicted with hypertrichosis universalis and painted. His family became an object of medical inquiry by Ulisse Aldrovandi among others. Gonzalez eventually settled in Italy. The paintings of Gonsalvus by an anonymous German artist were likely created from drawings, rather than a live sitting. The paintings were titled "Der Rauch man Zu Münichen" (the "Wild/Hairy Man from Munich" for an old Middle High German Word rûch meaning wild/hairy) because of the origin of the painting, not because Gonsalvus spent any time in Munich.[3]

A man with disabilities[edit]

A Man with Disabilities

This is an unusual and unique late 16th-century painting of a man with a physical disability. In typical portrait-style he gazes at the viewer, while the top of his head is covered by a hat. A fashionable neck piece separates his head from his naked body, which lies chest-down on a dark green sheet. His limbs appear withered and useless. Originally the portrait was partially obscured by a sheet of red paper, which the observer would lift to reveal the subject's body. Observers indicated that they were shocked. The man was probably a jester at a court.[4] An extensive analysis of the painting has been published (see external links).

Gregor Baci[edit]

This portrait represents a Hungarian hussar, by tradition Gregor Baci, who apparently survived a piercing injury with a lance to the right side of his face.[1] The injury may have occurred during a jousting tournament or while fighting the Ottoman Turks. The painting was created by an unknown artist in the 16th century and first listed in 1622.



  1. ^ a b c d Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. "Ambras Collection". Retrieved June 29, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c Erche B (August 2008). "Der schlimmste Boesewicht der Walachei" (PDF). Weltkunst (in German): 7. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-08-16. Retrieved June 30, 2009. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  3. ^ "Haarmensch, Petrus Gonsalvus (geboren 1556), Deutsch and anonym". Europeana. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  4. ^ Schönwiese V, Flieger P. "The Painting of a Disabled Man from the 16th century - a participatory action research project" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on August 15, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-29. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 47°15′21″N 11°26′2″E / 47.25583°N 11.43389°E / 47.25583; 11.43389