“Nel conoscere le cose tutte della natura”

Nicolò Simonelli and the Musaeum of Flavio Chigi

in Nuncius
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The cardinal nephew, Flavio Chigi (1631–1693), is known for his very special collection of natural as well as artistic objects from abroad. A portrait of the man, who was in charge of the Chigi-collection, the connoisseur Nicolò Simonelli, shows him among the key pieces staged on a table, while underneath pieces of antique sculpture are stored in a strange way. The antagonism of the Priapus statue on display on the one hand and the pieces of antique statues placed underneath the table on the other bring monstrous aspects of the antique to light while the beau-idéal often identified with antique sculpture seems to be no longer a matter of question. The arrangement of these objects allows moreover a reflection on different modes of generation/creation known at the time. The paper emphasizes the aesthetic aspects of the vis plastica of nature.

“Nel conoscere le cose tutte della natura”

Nicolò Simonelli and the Musaeum of Flavio Chigi

in Nuncius




See Paula FindlenPossessing Nature: Museums Collecting and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy (Berkeley: University of California Press1996). The literature on Kunst-und Wunderkammern has been very rich since Die Kunst- und Wunderkammern der Spätrenaissance: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Sammelwesens (Leipzig: Klinkhardt & Biermann 1908). I would merely like to cite just Krzysztof Pomian Collectionneurs amateurs et curieux: Paris Venise: XVIe–XVIIIe siècle ([Paris]: Gallimard 1987); Horst Bredekamp The Lure of Antiquity and the Cult of the Machine translated by Allison Brown (Princeton NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers 1995); Dominik Collet Die Welt in der Stube: Begegnungen mit Außereuropa in Kunstkammern der Frühen Neuzeit (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2007); Krzysztof Pomian “Collections: Une histoire politique et sociale” in L’ œil et la passion 2: Dessins italiens baroques dans les collections privées françaises edited by Catherine Monbeig Goguel (Ghent: Snoeck 2015) pp. 23–27; Wunderkammer. Arte Natura Meraviglia ieri e oggi exhibition catalog edited by Lavinia Galli Michero Martina Mazzotta (Milano: Skira 2013).


Hans-Jörg RheinbergerExperimentalsysteme und epistemische Dinge: Eine Geschichte der Proteinsynthese im Reagenzglas (Göttingen: Wallstein2001).


Ibid. p. 93 n. 1. See Lorenzo LottoAndrea Odoni1523. Oil on canvas 104.3 × 116.8 cm. Picture Gallery Buckingham Palace. Titian Jacopo de Strada ca. 1567–1568. Oil on canvas 126 × 95.5 cm. Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna.


Annibale CarracciPortrait of Giovan Battista Agucchi1603–1604. Oil on canvas 60.3 ×46.3 cm. York City Art Gallery. Domenichino Portrait of Francesco Angeloni (?) 1615–1620 Oil on canvas 64.4 × 49.9 cm. Firenze Galleria degli Uffizi. On the portrait see: Silvia Ginzburg “The Portrait of Agucchi at York Reconsidered” The Burlington Magazine 1994 136:4–14; Donatella Sparti “The Portrait of Agucchi at York” The Burlington Magazine 1997 139:109; Stefano Pierguidi “Analisi delle fonti ‘connoisseurship’ e ‘common sense’: una nuova ipotesi sul ‘Ritratto di Agucchi’ di York” Notizie da Palazzo Albani 2007–2008 36–37:103–109.


Caterina Volpi“I ritratti di illustri contemporanei della collezione di Cassiano dal Pozzo,” in I segreti di un collezionistaexhibition catalog (Museo del territorio biellese) edited by Francesco Solinas (Roma: De Luca 2001) pp. 68–78.


Ibid. p. 472 no. 568: “Scialba con fodero di velluto torchino recamato con l’impugnatura d’argento dorato”; ibid. p. 475 no. 837: “Tre corelli turcheschi cioè due mezzani et uno piccolo con manichi d’osso bianco dentro ad una vaina foderata d’argento lavorata parte dorata e parte argento con un pometto tondo da piedi con alcune pietre.” The collection had Turkish weapons as well as horses’ harnesses and other accoutrements of the Turkish army. On this see also Valentina Colonna “Oggetti curiosi” (cit. note 25).


Ernst Kris“Der Stil ‘Rustique’: Die Verwendung des Naturabgusses bei Wenzel Jamnitzer und Bernard Palissy,” Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien1928 n.s. 1:137–207.


Pietro de’ SebastianiViaggio Sagro e curioso delle Chiese più principali di Roma ove si nota il più bello delle Pitture Sculture & altri monumenti (Roma: A. Bernabo1683) p. 57.


See: Giovan Pietro BelloriLe vite pp. 474–477 (cit. note 15); Giovan Pietro Bellori The Lives of the Modern Painters pp. 474–477 (cit. note 15).


On this see Martin Mulsow“Antiquarianism and Idolatry: The ‘Historia’ of Religions in the Seventeenth Century,” in Historia: Empiricism and Erudition in Early Modern Europeedited by Gianna Pomata Nancy Siraisi (Cambridge MA: The MIT Press 2005) pp. 181–209; Daniel Stolzenberg Egyptian Oedipus: Athanasius Kircher and the Secrets of Antiquity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2013).


On this type see Lorrayne Y. Baird“Priapus Gallinaceus: The Role of the Cock in Fertility and Eroticism in Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages,” Studies in Iconography1981–1982 7–8:81–112.


Virginie Spenlé“Wenzel Jamnitzer’s Mortar: Life Casting and Court Experimentalism in the 16th Century,” in Collecting Natureedited by Andrea Gáldy Sylvia Heudecker (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars 2014) pp. 37–56 see also the Daphne from this workshop in Dresden from whose cast bronze and gilded body ‘grows’ hair made of coral / to whose cast bronze and gilded body ‘hair’ made of coral has been attached. Jamnitzer also produced naturalia in settings very similar to that of the walnut for example the cherry.


Filippo BuonanniRicreatione dell’occhio e della mente nell’osservation’ delle chiocciole (Roma: Varese1681) see also Karin Leonhard “Shell Collecting: On 17th-Century Conchology Curiosity Cabinets and Still Life Painting” in Early Modern Zoology: The Construction of Animals in Science Literature and the Visual Arts (Leiden: Brill 2007) pp. 177–214: esp. 192.


Georgius Everhardus RumphiusD’Amboinsche rariteitkamer (Amsterdam: Konftantijn den Grooten1705) p. 42.


PliniusNaturalis historia13.142. See Ascione Storia del corallo (cit. note 52) p. 20.


See Beate Fricke“Matter and Meaning of Mother-of-Pearl: The Origins of Allegory in the Spheres of Things,” Gesta2012 51/1:35–53 p. 45.


Luigi ScanelliIl microcosmo della pittura (Cesena: Peril Neri1657) p. 307.


Hendrick GoltziusJan Govertz van der Aar1603. Oil on canvas 82.7 × 107.5 cm. Rotterdam Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen. See Leopoldine van Hogendorp Prosperetti “Conchas legere Shells as Trophies of Repose in Northern European Humanism” Art History 2006 29/3:387–413.


Jonathan Brown“The Prints and Drawings of Ribera,” in Jusepe de Ribera: Lo Spagnoletto 1591–1652exhibition catalog edited by Craig Felton William Jordan (Fort Worth: Kimbell Art Museum; Seattle: Washington University Press 1982) pp. 85 89–90 n. 57 fig. 102; Andrea Bayer “A Note on Ribera’s Drawing of Nicolò Simonelli” The Metropolitan Museum Journal 1995 30:73–80.


Diogenes LaertiusLives and Opinion of Eminent Philosophers (London: G. Bell1909) book VI ch. II p. 231.


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    Figure 1

    Parmigianino, Portrait of a Collector, ca. 1523. Oil on canvas, 89.5 × 63.8 cm.London, National Gallery. © The National Gallery, London

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    Figure 2

    Pier Francesco Mola and Paolo Porpora (?), Portrait of Nicolò Simonelli, 1666–1671. Oil on canvas, 130 × 95 cm.Rome, formerly Chigi Collection. From “Pier Francesco Mola,” in Francesco Petrucci, Pittura di Ritratto a Roma: Il Seicento (Roma: Andreina & Valneo Budai, 2008), p. 358

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    Figure 3

    Hendrick Goltzius, Portrait of Jan Govertz van der Aar, 1603. Oil on canvas, 82.7 × 107.5 cm.Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen, © Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen

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    Figure 4

    Portrait of Eberhard RumphiusFrom Eberhard Rumphius, D’Amboinsche rariteitkamer. (Amsterdam: 1705), p. 3.

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    Figure 5

    Jusepe de Ribera, Portrait of a Philosopher with Inscription: Nicolò Simonelli, 1630–1640. Drawing, 21.2 × 10 cm.New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harry G. Sperling Fund, 1981.395 (public fund): http://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-met/policies-and-documents/image-resources (accessed april 5 2017)

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    Figure 6

    Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Diogenes with a Lantern, 1645–1647. Engraving, 22.7 × 31.9 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Accession number: 1985-52-28373.Photo: © Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Muriel and Philip Berman Gift, acquired from the John S. Phillips bequest of 1876 to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1985. Accession No. 1985-52-28373

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