Bernard Aikema on the history of collections

Bernard Aikema introduced his talk by explaining that Renaissance must be studied at the European level and not at the level of a single country.

A brave and courageous definition of a collection (author ?): Every ensemble of objects being natural or artificial a that are kept for a certain period of time or forever outside of economic activity and which are subject to special protection in a close space which is being created for this scope, out of sight of the public

Aikema argued that on the contrary

– collections have economical values

– collections are not bound to specific places (citing some counter examples, like moveable collection).

– collections were opened to selected audiences.

Collections are not just art collections. Too often, inventories are filtered to document only art works. A more anthropological approach would be better.

The viewer is central to the understanding of collections. Aikema argued for the relevance of research on the psychology of collectionism. (cf Peter Burke research). Every collector has an idea. Every collection is part of a larger context. Every collection represents an ideology.


Collecting has always been important for Venice. In Venice, after the war of Candia, the Republic needed some money. It became easier to become noble. (“A case for Bourdieu’s theory of troc”). New noble families starting to collect and introduce novelty in collectionism and investigate new exhibition spaces.

Criteria for collecting kept changing. At some point, it was essentially based on the quality of the material. The more expensive the better (gold, marble, etc.). At first, human craftsmanship was to some extent secondary.

Wunderkammer in Venice are difficult to find. You find them only on Terra Ferma. Why is it so ?



You can only collect something is you are part of a system. Venice progressively focused on paintings (i.e. painting systems). To many extent, it can be considered that Vasari founded art history by constructing the system of understanding/classifying Venetian paintings. The beginning of genres (landscapes, etc.) theory started in the XVIIIe century.

Aikema concluded on the importance of context. The key is reconstructing context. It is a great responsibility for our generation. If we don’t do this in a world where everything is decontextualized, nothing can be understood. Geographical recontextualisation is of extreme importance.

Aikema recommended to read the work of

– Barbara Stafford

– Peter Burke

Stefania Mason

Wolfgang Iser


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