Paula Findlen spoke at the Seminar in Cultural History on Wednesday, April 8, 2015. Her talk was entitled “Is a Crocodile a Work of Art? Seeing Objects in the Early Modern Cabinet of Curiosities.”




Paula Findlen
is Ubaldo Pierotti Professor of Italian History, Department Chair, and Director of the Suppes Center for the History and Philosophy of Science. Previously she held positions in Stanford University (1996-2002) and in the University of California, Davis (1989-1996). Dr. Findlen earned her doctorate in History at the University of California, Berkley in 1989. Her publications include Possessing Nature: Museums, Collecting and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy (1994), The Italian Renaissance (2002), Merchants and Marvels (2002), Beyond Florence (2002), Athanasius Kircher: The Last Man Who Knew Everything (2004), The Contest for Knowledge (2005), Italy’s Eighteenth Century: Gender and Culture in the Age of the Grand Tour (2009), Early Modern Things: Objects and Their Histories, 1500-1800 (2013), and the English translation (with Brad Bouley and Corey Tazzara) of Renata Ago’s The Taste for Things: A History of Objects in Seventeenth-Century Rome (2013). She has recently completed a collaborative book on The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo: A Catalogue Raisonné. Series B ~ Natural History, Part V. Fauna, Minerals and Natural Curiosities that will appear in the coming year.

Dr. Findlen is the recipient of the Howard Marraro Prize for best book in Italian History (American Catholic Historical Association, 1995), the Pfizer Prize for best book in a three-year period (History of Science Society, 1996), and the Margaret W. Rossiter History of Women in Science Prize for best article in a three-year period (History of Science Society, 2004). She continues to think about the early history of museums and collecting, and lately has been writing about the history of the Uffizi Gallery as well as the fossil collection and drawings of the seventeenth-century Sicilian painter Agostino Scilla.

At the BGC, Dr. Findlen spoke of the crocodile as the most iconic object that we associate with the early modern cabinet of curiosities. How and why did this occur? What did it mean and for whom? Taking the crocodile as a case study of how to reconstruct the history of a singular object and its representations, this talk explored the meaning of the crocodile in and outside of the cabinet, including its prehistory before such collections existed and its afterlife in the modern era when the crocodile ceased to haunt the modern museum.