Past Events

Curious Specimens: Enlightenment Objects, Collections, Narratives


  • 15 to 17 April 2010
  • 10:00 – 7:30 pm
  • Public Study Room, Paul Mellon Centre

This conference brings together academic and museum scholars to present and discuss new perspectives on eighteenth-century practices of collecting, using as its focus two exhibitions, Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill (V&A, 6 March-4 July 2010) and Mrs Delany and her Circle (Sir John Soane's Museum, 19 February-1 May 2010).

Detailed illustration of plant mauve petals

Mary Delany, drawing and collage of coloured papers on black ink background, 1778

Horace Walpole (1717-1797) was a central figure in eighteenth-century social and cultural life and the most important collector of English historical artifacts and objects, including manuscripts, rare books, ceramics, portrait miniatures, prints, paintings, antiquities, armour and other curiosities, which he arranged in his Gothic villa at Strawberry Hill.

Mary Delany (1700-1788) is best known for her cut-paper collages of botanically accurate flowers and floral embroidery designs, which connect the world of natural history with court culture and in particular the collections of the Duchess of Portland.

This conference will address eighteenth-century pre occupations with the ordering of both the natural world and material culture, which required new ways of thinking about the classification of objects. Papers will examine issues of collecting, collectors and their circles; the creation of artisanal productions as forms of collecting; and intersections and tensions between antiquarian, aesthetic, and scientific cultures of collecting.