Towards modernist collecting: some European practices of the long term

  • Susan Pearce


The beginning of modernist collecting, and, of the particular kinds of knowledge and experience which it embodies are usually considered to begin within the fifteenth century, where interests concentrates on the accumulations of the Medici, and upon the cabinets of curiosities, which begin to appear, as the century draws to a close. However; this early modern collecting practice did not crystalize out of nothing. The standard procedures of historical investigation can suggest some obvious predecessors: the collections of relics and treasures acquired by the great medieval churches and princes; the collections of Greek art acquired by first century and later Romans; and the material held in Greek temples, described for us by Pausanius. But underlying all this collecting activity it is perhaps possible to discern some characteristics of the European tradition which inform collecting, and make it likely that modernist collecting, when it finally comes into being with the rest of modernist practice, will take the shape and significance which it has done.