From the 17th century onwards, collecting and displaying artworks and objects from abroad has been considered a genteel pastime. In the golden age of exploration and Grand Tours, owning what became known as a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ was a way of showing off a broader appreciation of the world. When the idea of such cabinets originated in the Renaissance period they were known as ‘wunderkammer’, or cabinets of wonder.
It’s refreshing to think that we can still glean a little bit of such wonder from objects even in today’s connected world. A fine example of this is Christie’s sale on 22nd November 2016 of lawyer, traveller and aesthete Seward Kennedy’s accumulation of curiosities. Entitled ‘Seward Kennedy’s Cabinet of Curiosities’, the sale shows the American-born Anglophile’s discerning taste for items with beautiful patina and fascinating history. His eclectic taste ranged from contemporary art to tribal metalwork.
Showcased below are 10 highlight lots. Kennedy displayed all his worldy finds in his homes in New York and London and was still acquiring pieces up until two weeks before he died. He denied that it was ever a collection but what is shown above is a glimpse of one of the most wonderful – and extensive – modern cabinets of curiosity. Perhaps bidding on a piece will inspire you to start your own.
An Italian walnut model of a merlion, 19th century
Probably originally a bench-end, the piece is 33in (85cm) high on a stand
An enamelled brass pyx from Limoges, France, 13th century
A pyx is a box used in the Christian church to carry the Eucharist
Two iron masks from Nuremberg, Germany, 17th century
Each is made of blackened iron with piercings for the eyes, nose and mouth. The first is formed of one piece, while the second is formed of three main plates with a lattice of bars covering the forehead
A Safavid pottery tile from Iran, 18th century
The Safavid period is seen as a high point of Persian art and spans the years from 1501 to 1722
A large portrait of a monkey from Rajasthan, north India, 18th-19th century
This ink drawing of a monkey is mounted and framed measuring 17 x 24in (43 x 61cm)
Two scholar’s objects from China, thought to be 19th century or earlier
The lot comprises a burrwood specimen growing from malachite and a large stone on rootwood stand
A pair of male and female Ibeji figures from Yoruba, Nigeria
The Yoruba held a large African empire until the end of 17th century and were the most urbanised of all the African peoples
Romeo e Giulietta (Opus 101) by Miguel Ortiz Berrocal
Berrocal was a Spanish sculptor who died in 2006. This piece was made in 1966-67. It comes with the original assembly booklet, which includes the numbered and signed certificate
Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato) by Andy Warhol
One of Warhol’s most iconic Pop Art motifs, this screenprinted bag comes from an unknown edition size, published by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts in 1966
A stained fruitwood articulated artist’s mannequin
This piece was made by the French company Maquette Francaise in the late 19th century
Seward Kennedy’s Cabinet of Curiosities sale took place at Christie’s South Kensington on 22nd November 2016.
Christie’s, 85 Old Brompton Road, London, SW7 3LD. 02097 306074; christies.com