Alliance of Early Universal Museums

To mark the 25th anniversary of the reopening of the Kunst- und Naturalienkammer after the renovation of the Historic Orphanage, the Francke Foundations founded the Alliance of Early Universal Museums together with the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography »Peter the Great« - Kunstkamera in St. Petersburg (Russia) and the Teylers Museum in Haarlem (Netherlands) and the Wunderkammer expert Arthur MacGregor (Great Britain) on 13 October 2020.

The idea for founding the Alliance is based on the knowledge that the early modern Wunderkammern in Europe were interconnected in many ways.
The aim of the Alliance is to discuss current questions of museum handling of surviving cabinets of curiosities or their preserved components in a broad-based expert committee, to intensify professional expertise, provenance research and the development of future scenarios for the presentation and research of collections, and to publish jointly. Early modern universal collections from all over Europe and beyond are invited to become members of the Alliance.

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Das Mirakel der Wunderkammern. Europas wahre Aufklärung

Founding lecture by Prof. Dr. Horst Bredekamp (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.

Annual Programmes- Overview

  • The fourth issue 2020 of the journal »Kunstkamera«, edited by the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography in St. Petersburg, published the founding of the Alliance. The keynotes of the founding members can be found 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.

On 28 May 2021, the Teylers Museum in Haarlem hosted the first meeting of the new network. An international meeting in St. Petersburg on the occasion of the 350th birthday of Peter the Great is being prepared for 2022.

About us

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 Teyler’s 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 welcomes further institutional members and would be interested in contacting experts and researchers in our field of interest.

Speakers of the Alliance 2020/21

Teylers Museum, (Haarlem, Netherlands)
Dr. Marjan Scharloo

Franckesche Stiftungen (Halle, Germany)
Director Prof. Dr. Thomas Müller-Bahlke


Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (the Kunstkamera) (St. Petersburg, Russian Federation)
Director Prof. Dr. Andrei Golovnev