Los Angeles: Getty Research Art and Curiosity Cabinets of the Late Renaissance: A Contribution to the History of Collecting. By Julius von Schlosser, Ed. Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, and trans. Jonathan Blower, 2022. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, xii + 231[[., Paperback USD $65.00, ISBN 9781606066652
This is the latest volume in the series ‘Texts & Documents’ and contains the first English translation of Schlosser’s ground-breaking publication of 1908, which ‘offers a historical account of changing notions of collecting in relation to art’ (p.26). In this book, Schlosser first used the term Kunst- und Wunderkammern to describe princely collections, which had not previously been discussed in this way; these terms were already in use in the 1590s, but only in connection with the collection at Schloss Ambras. Schlosser never discussed his reasons for using this terminology. It seems astonishing that his book has not been translated before, but, as Kaufmann points out: ‘the question of whether he has been cited more than read remains open’ (p. 32). Inevitably because of the absence of such a translation, many of the footnotes are to publications in German.
Almost no other publication took on the area of research covered in Schlosser’s work until the 1970s and 1980s, since when there have been at least 800 (and counting). Kaufmann’s introductory essay ‘A Landmark Reconsidered’ is an essential element of this new translation. It provides an overview of Schlosser’s life and career and draws our attention to his pupils, many of whom went on to have distinguished careers in the field of art history, including Ernst Gombrich, Otto Kurz, Otto Pächt, Fritz Saxl and Charles de Tolnay. Despite the fact that Gombrich told Kaufmann that he did not wish to see Schlosser’s book translated, there are many in the English-speaking world who will find this invaluable, especially as Schlosser’s use of language is difficult to follow, Kaufmann informs us.
Schlosser admired Italy enormously, spoke Italian and travelled there frequently and held that country up as exemplary in respect of collecting, proposing that it was the origin of the later development of museums. His introduction proposed Greek and Roman temples as museums, followed by medieval churches. His book, however, is principally concerned with Hapsburg collections, stemming from his interest in the collection of the Archduke Ferdinand of the Tyrol, originally located at Schloss Ambras. In Schlosser’s day the Archduke’s collection had been transferred to Vienna, where Schlosser worked at the Kunsthistorisches Hofmusuem. It is only more recently that a proportion of it has been re-displayed at Ambras. Schlosser was mistaken in viewing the collection of Rudolf II as ‘lacking in method and order’ (p.29), which has been corrected by more recent scholarship. On the other hand, not everything Schlosser proposed has been rendered nugatory by modern scholars.
This translation has a few colour illustrations in the introductory essay, but in Schlosser’s text the illustrations are black and white, as they originally were. A bibliography would have been welcome, despite the full citations in the footnotes. This publication is to be warmly welcomed and should be consulted by every scholar working on the subject. It is to be hoped that the Texts & Documents series will continue and we would like to propose a full translation of Sandrart’s writings on art.