Alliance of Early Universal Museums

Group photo of the members of the Alliance of Early Universal Museums in the Francke Foundations' Cabinet of Artefacts and Natural Curiosities.
Members of the Alliance of Early Universal Museums 2023 in the Francke Foundations
Members of the Alliance of Early Universal Museums learn about the history of the Wunderkammer in Halle during a guided tour with the director.
Workshop of the Alliance 2023 in Halle
Members of the Alliance 2022 in Haarlem

At the 25th anniversary of the reopening of the Cabinet of Artefacts and Natural Curiosities after the renovation of the Historic Orphanage, the Francke Foundations in Halle (Germany), the Teylers Museum in Haarlem (Netherlands), the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography »Peter the Great« - Kunstkamera in St. Petersburg (Russia) and the Wunderkammer expert Arthur MacGregor (Great Britain) have founded the Alliance of Early Universal Museums on 13 October 2020.

The idea for founding the Alliance is based on the knowledge that early universal Museums in Europe were interconnected in many ways.
The aim of the Alliance is to discuss current questions of museum handling of surviving collections or their preserved components in a broad-based expert committee, to intensify professional expertise and provenance research as well as to develop future scenarios for the presentation and research of collections.

With Russia's belligerent attack on Ukraine, a sovereign state in Europe, the AEUM Alliance has suspended cooperation with the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography »Peter the Great« - Kunstkamera in St. Petersburg (Russia) until further notice. The ongoing war must be brought to an end in order to make cooperation in the scientific and cultural field possible again. 

The Alliance of Early Universal Museums (AEUM), initiated jointly by the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, Kunstkamera (St. Petersburg, Russia), Franckesche Stiftungen, (Halle, Germany) and Teylers Museum (Haarlem, Netherlands), aims to revitalize the traditional values of universality, encyclopaedism and enlightenment in museum epistemology and practice.

Many early European museums – including the three AEUM founders – embody the matrix of a holistic approach that aimed to promote systematic knowledge and humanistic values as governing principles for research, publication and display.

Such universal museums, often coexisting with libraries, universities, or academies, embraced primarily the concept of Theatrum Mundi – the theatre of the world, the universe in a cabinet, the microcosm in the macrocosm – with the aim of pursuing a better understanding of mankind and its place in the (natural) world.

The Alliance aims to foster the spirit of universality, and to privilege the primacy of original material in authentic interiors and buildings. Present day debates about, for example inclusiveness and colonialism, invite a fresh and critical look at precisely this group of museums and their relevance for society today.

Cooperation between the present-day curators of these early universal museums will open up new research horizons based on long-established principles, providing keys to the study of museum histories, museological theories and the historical trajectories of collections and objects.

Old-established museums embody the functions of both preserving antiquarian and early scientific collections and of engendering new interests. The Alliance’s agenda foresees the sharing of research as well as exhibitions (both actual and virtual), for the general public and for specialized audiences.

The AEUM invites early universal museums from all over Europe from the 16 century up to 1800 to become a member and would be interested in contacting experts and researchers within the field of interest.

Founding Members

Francke Foundations, (Halle, Germany) Member since 2020
Prof. Dr. Thomas Müller-Bahlke (Co-Speaker)
Prof. Dr. Holger Zaunstöck
Friederike Lippold

Teylers Museum (Haarlem, Netherlands) Member since 2020
Marc de Beyer M.A. (Co-Speaker)
Dr. Trienke van der Spek

Museum for Anthropology and Ethnography »Peter the Great«– Kunstkamera (St. Petersburg, Russia) Member since 2020
Membership currently suspended due to Russian war of aggression on Ukraine

Prof. Dr. Andrej Golovnev
Dr. Natalja Kopaneva


Museo di Palazzo Poggi (Bologna, Italy) Member since 2022
Dr. Eugenio Bertozzi

Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt (Germany) Member since 2023
Dr. Martin Faass

Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein(Gotha, Germany) Member since 2023
Dr. Tobias Pfeifer-Helke

Esterházy Privatsammlungen (Forchtenstein, Austria) Member since 2023
Dr. Florian T. Bayer

Scientific Advisor

Dr. Kim Sloan (London, Great Britain)
Dr. Marjan Scharloo (Rotterdam, Netherlands)
Prof. Dr. Arthur MacGregor (London, Great Britain) Member 2019–2022

Programme 2023

21/22 April 2023
Workshop in the Francke Foundations

5–8 September 2023
Annual Meeting in the Francke Foundations (by Invitation only)

Programme 2021/22

28 May 2021
Workshop in Teylers Museum (Haarlem)

9/10 June 2022
Annual Meeting in Teylers Museum in Haarlem

Programme 2020

12/13 October 2020
Founding Workshop in the Francke Foundations, Halle

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The Miracle of the Wunderkammer. Europe's true Enlightenment

Founding lecture by Prof. Dr Horst Bredekamp (in German)

Early modern museum collections, often referred to as chambers of art and natural history or chambers of curiosities, are a typical phenomenon of European cultural history. There were numerous collections of this type in very different forms, of which quite a few still exist today.

  • The fourth issue 2020 of the magazine »Kunstkamera«, published by the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography in St. Petersburg, published the foundation of the Alliance. Please find the keynotes of the founding members in the presentation online of the journal.
  • Brill Verlag (Leiden/Boston) published a comprehensive conference volume on the history of Teyler's Foundation in Haarlem in December 2020.  The interdisciplinary and lavishly designed book goes back to an international conference in Haarlem in 2017. It was edited by the Dutch collection historians Ellinoor Bergvelt and Debora Meijers and for the first time examines this institution in the context of scientific, museological, political, artistic, religious and philosophical developments. The key moment for the present collection was the decision in 1779 to freely interpret the will of its founder, the Mennonite entrepreneur Pieter Teyler van der Hulst (1702-1778): Inspired by the naturalist Martinus van Marum, the foundation board decided to build an impressive museum space and to establish a natural science collection. The institution thus entered an era in which older scientific and collecting traditions were combined with new developments towards a research institution and a public museum for natural history, physics and art.