Wednesday, 17 April, 2024

Museums are where we put our best stuff. An item might belong in a museum if it’s rare, expensive, irreplaceable, or so ordinary and beloved it becomes extraordinary. A self-portrait by Vincent Van Gogh, a can of SPAM, a Romanian mud hut, a narwhal horn, a discarded red stiletto: They can all be found in a museum somewhere in the world.

But exhibitions in museums are more than mere collections of striking items. Museums are vital institutions that take on the tasks of collecting, interpreting, and caring for artifacts — both precious and charmingly ordinary — so they can be experienced by the general public.

The Ancient Greek word mouseion means ‘seat of Muses.’ In classical antiquity, a museum was a place for contemplation and philosophical debate. When art moved from the open air, larger-than-life statuary of the Greco-Roman era to more intimate, human-scale paintings and objects, the definition of museum changed, too. It became a place to visit to see art — and anything placed in a museum became art.

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In this episode, we romp through the delightful hoarding behavior behind Renaissance Wunderkammers, learn about the first museum curator (spoiler: It was a woman!), and celebrate the majesty of the Louvre. Then we recommend books that transported us to museums around the world, including two nonfiction books devoted to art appreciation, a historical novel about 17th-century Amsterdam, coffee table books that celebrate cabinets of curiosities, and a fantastical story that goes behind the scenes of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. (show notes / transcript)

recommended books

The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne

buy | read review

Cabinets of Curiosities

buy | read review

How to Enjoy Art

buy | read review

The Illustrated Guide to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo

buy | read review


buy | read review

A Little History of Art

buy | read review

Metropolitan Stories

buy | read review

A Parisian Cabinet of Curiosities: Deyrolle

buy | read review

A Pure Heart

buy | read review

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

buy | read review

Top image courtesy of rafaellsilveira/Shutterstock.

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featured posts

Humans have been collecting precious stuff to show their friends for millennia. In this episode, we discuss the first museum, explore Renaissance Wunderkammers, and celebrate all that makes museums so very awesome.
From majestic (Michelangelo's David) to silly (a can of SPAM) and everything in between (taxidermy! historical costumes!), museums are a fantastic place to get curious. These books do the same, no travel required.
There's no denying that seeing original artworks with your own eyes is a powerful experience. But there are so many amazing things to see! We're grateful for these sites that bring inspiring art to our desktops.
Escape to 18th-century London and meet Cecily, our intrepid heroine who's curious about the world of botany and solving a murder in equal measure. Yes, she's a bit of a troublemaker, in the very best, charming way.
The Lewis Chessmen are 12th-century chess pieces carved from walrus ivory, and their origin story is shrouded in conjecture, academic rivalry, and murder. One undisputed fact: They are ridiculously cute.
It looks like the enchanted library of your dreams, but it's really the East Room of banker J.P. Morgan's 1906 Library, the heart of the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City. Commence swooning.
This award-winning building is a work of art itself, with windows that frame the natural beauty of its setting on the waterfront. Inside, you'll find a lovely glass mural, history and art exhibits, and so many books.
Soft light illuminates floor-to-ceiling shelves of gilt-spined books in the libraries of the Strahov Monastery. But it's not all Latin texts and antique globes: a narwhal horn and a giant crab decorate the hallway.

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