Collector's Study

This room evokes the private study or studiolo (literally “little study”) of an educated, wealthy nobleman living in the 1600s in the Southern Netherlands (present-day Belgium). Here he might spend leisure time studying beautiful objects. The walls were often lined with cabinets (with doors closed, not open as here) above which hung portraits of inspiring figures from the past, sometimes accompanied by an instructive saying reminding one of higher truths. Objects were studied as much as books. The cases--each accessed through its own page (below left)--contained small items that were especially treasured or useful to have at hand for examination and comparison, as a small bronze Venus  by Antico in Case II or an Egyptian Shawabti (Case XV)) of the kind that puzzled Peter Paul Rubens. The legacy of Renaissance humanism is evident in the importance of objects and themes associated with antiquity and also in the emphasis on acquiring knowledge through study. Books may have been kept in some of the closed cabinets, but others were probably in a separate library.
    Two aspects of artistic production are celebrated: the artist’s God-like creative “genius” (or its less exalted form, ingenuity) that generates the idea and also the “art” that it took to complete it. The traditional concept of art meant special knowledge reflecting high achievement with a focus on technique involving mental agility, and not so much beauty for its own sake. It was in the quiet of his study that the collector experienced this achievement.
Inventories do not automatically clarify exactly how collections were organized. Archduke Ferdinand's collection at Schloss Ambras (Innsbruck) was organized primarily by materials, apparently based on the approach taken by the Roman author Pliny the Elder (23–79CE) in his commentaries on human achievements in the visual arts--embedded in his immense encyclopedic study of "the natural world, or life," Naturalis Historia (Natural History), still an influential model in the 1600s. With the exception of the shelves over the Collector's Desk including a random assortment of items kept directly "at hand" including a human skull for meditation, the progression of materials begins on the west wall in the corner with I Iron and Steel (incl. complex locks); II Bronze: Statuettes of the Female Nude (image right); III Bronze: Reductions of Ancient Statues as Statuettes;(having the monumental statue of Marcus Aurelius on Horseback on your desk); IV Bronze: Antiquity Revised; V Gold and Silver; VI Rock Crystal and Glass; VII and VIII Timepieces; IX Gems and Jewelry; X Ivory; XI Wood (image lower left); XII and XIII: Painted Enamel; XIV Greek and Roman Antiquities; XV Egyptian Antiquities.

    "Genius Lives on, All Else Is Mortal", inscribed over the desk as the kind of instructive saying often to be found places of study at that time, is taken from the groundbreaking work on anatomy, De Fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body), 1543, by the famous Flemish physician Andreas Vesalius; in fact that was the inscription on the page of De Fabrica depicted open in the Portrait of the Physician Girolamo Mercuriale (above right) centered over the desk.