In July 2020, the publisher Taschen published the opulent work »Cabinet of Curiosities«. 19 European cabinets of curiosities are presented here. On the cover picture, the crowning motif of the plant cabinet of the Cabinet of Artefacts and Curiosities of the Francke Foundations is illuminated. It is the only European Cabinet of Curiosities of the Baroque period that has been completely preserved and can be viewed in its authentic location and with its historical furniture to this day. To mark the 25th anniversary of the reopening of the collection after the renovation of the Historic Orphanage, the Francke Foundations founded the »Alliance of Early Universal Museums« on October 13, 2020, 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). The idea of founding the Alliance is based on the knowledge that the early modern Cabinets of Curiosities in Europe were connected in many ways. The aim of the Alliance is to discuss current issues of museum handling of traditional Early Universal Museums or their preserved components in a broadly based expert committee, to intensify professional expertise, provenance research, and the development of future scenarios for the presentation and research of collections, and to jointly publish them. Early modern universal collections from all over Europe and beyond are invited to become members of the Alliance.
On October 12, 1995, exactly 25 years before the founding of the Alliance, Prof. Dr. Thomas Müller-Bahlke, in his capacity as archivist and historian, was able to reopen the Cabinet of Artefacts and Curiosities in its original location after extensive research of sources. »The uniqueness of the Wunderkammer of the Francke Foundations lies in the fact that all the basic components of the original Baroque Wunderkammer have been preserved: over 3,000 objects from the fields of art and life, the chamber's perfectly fitting collection cabinets with their impressive colorful crowning paintings, the original room in the former dormitory of the Historic Orphanage, and the museum-theoretical concept of the presentation based on the 18th century catalogs,« explains the current director of the Francke Foundations.
Since that time, there have been close contacts with the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography »Peter the Great« - Kunstkamera of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Here, the preserved objects of the collection of the Russian Tsar Peter the Great, who at the turn of the 17th and 18th century consistently opened the Russian Empire to Europe and established his collection according to the model of the European Wunderkammer, are exhibited in the specially constructed historical building on the banks of the Neva directly opposite the Hermitage. On the initiative of the Francke Foundations, this renowned institution is a founding member of the Alliance.
The Teylers Museum in Haarlem illuminates an aspect of universal museums that does not fit into the Wunderkammer. As a private individual, Pieter Teyler van der Hulst (1702-1778) assembled extensive collections of works of art, natural history and scientific instruments that travellers could view at his museum. In his will he donated them to a museum that opened in Haarlem in 1784.
Today, cultural institutions can be the bond that holds the House of Europe together inside. The founding members from Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Russia consciously wanted to set this accent and expand the new network step by step. In 2021, a conference is planned in Haarlem, and in 2022, in the 350th anniversary year of Peter the Great, an international conference is being prepared in St. Petersburg.