Tradescant Collection

 

  Musaeum Tradescantianum  
 

In 1656, a catalogue of the Tradescant collection was sent to print, including within it a record of the contents of both the ‘Ark' and its adjacent garden. Funded almost exclusively by Elias Ashmole, this catalogue, entitled, Musaeum Tradescantianum, was the first of its kind to be published in Britain, and, as such, remains today a landmark in the field of English museological studies.

While the younger Tradescant was credited with the authorship of the catalogue, a considerable debt was owed both to Ashmole and to his friend, Dr Thomas Wharton. In acknowledging this, Tradescant stated, in the introduction to the catalogue, that it was his associates who had ‘pressed [him] with the argument, that the enumeration of these rarities (being more for variety than any one place known in Europe could afford) would be an honour to our nation, and a benefit to such ingenious persons as would become further enquirers into the various modes of natures admirable works, and the curious imitators thereof...'

Towards the end of the introduction, directed to ‘the Ingenious Reader', Tradescant gave a brief description of the method used in the organization of the rarities listed in the catalogue. His account was as follows:

‘Now for the materialls themselves, I reduce them unto two sorts; one Naturall, of which some are more familiarly known & named amongst us, as divers sorts of Birds, foure-footed Beasts and Fishes, to whom I have given usual English names. Others are lesse familiar, and as yet unfitted with apt English termes, as the shell-Creatures, Insects, Mineralls, Outlandish-Fruits, and the like, which are part of the Materia Medica; (Encroachers upon this faculty, may try how they can crack such shels) The other sort is Artificialls, as Utensills, House-holdstuffe, Habits, Instruments of Warre used by severall Nations, rare curiosities of Art, &c. These are also expressed in English, (saving the Coynes, which would vary but little if Translated) for the ready satisfying whomsoever may desire a view thereof'.

As is clear from this statement, Tradescant employed an organizational principle based on a classificatory system which differentiated between the wonders of nature, or naturalia, on the one hand, and the works of man, or artificialia, on the other. While this division was typical of the kind employed by his contemporaries, the further classification of objects was generally dependent on the individual intentions of the collector involved. In Tradescant's case, objects placed into the first category, that of naturalia, were further classified into sub-categories consisting of the three primary orders of nature (animal, plant, and mineral) as then defined. Objects placed into the second category, that of artificialia, were further classified by type, often loosely defined.

Of particular interest to the modern historian is the fact that Tradescant made it clear that little priority was attached, by the collector himself, to one form of evidence over another, whether it be natural or artificial, real or imaginary. Within the encyclopaedic context, all forms of data held equal weight when considered as parts of the whole of knowledge, and, as the Tradescant catalogue illustrated, the bounds of the encyclopaedic enterprise could be extended to include objects both of myth and of reality.

 
Introduction
The Cabinet of
Curiosities
The John Tradescants
The Tradescant
Collection
Musaeum
Tradescantianum
The Tradescant
Room
Further Reading
The Catalogue
About this Resource
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