A Browning Cabinet of Curiosities: Is Less More?
The Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, has the largest collection of material relating to the life and work of the husband and wife Victorian-era poets, Robert Browning (1812-1889) and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861).
Interesting from an architectural point of view, Robert Browning originally penned the line “less is more” in his poem of 1885, “Andrea del Sarto (called ‘the faultless painter’)”. The German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) later used “less is more” to summarize his own architectural design philosophy, however given the theme of Browning’s poem, the line is actually closer in meaning to the put down “less is a bore” by the American architect Robert Venturi (born 1925).
In 2014 Derham Groves received a visiting scholars fellowship from the Armstrong Browning Library. He will use the Browning collection as a vehicle for investigating the design of contemporary “cabinets of curiosities” in a series of independent and student projects.
The origins of today’s museums date back to the cabinets of curiosities of the 1600s. In those days, a cabinet of curiosities was an eclectic, often highly eccentric, collection of things that had taken the fancy of the collector, who housed his/her treasures in a purpose-built display cabinet. When the collections outgrew cabinets, they were housed in rooms and then buildings, but the original name stuck.
In recent years there has been much renewed interest in the biographical and creative possibilities of cabinets of curiosities by architects, artists, curators, and writers.
Images: Top left: Sir John Soane Museum, London. Top right: Museum of Jurassic Technology, Culver City, California. Right column: ‘A Browning cabinet of curiosities’ by Derham Groves.
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