Curating early modern objects in museum exhibitions

Feast & Fast: Joris van Son, Still Life with a Lobster, 1660 (credit: Fitzwilliam Museum)

Three exhibitions attest to an exceptional and ongoing collaboration between curatorial staff at the Fitzwilliam Museum and early modern historians at Cambridge University. The cumulative impact of this collaboration includes unprecedented public engagement, lasting changes to museum and display practice, and a long-term commitment to cross-pollination of expertise and knowledge across the academic and museum communities.

Treasured Possessions from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment (2015), Madonnas & Miracles: The Holy Home in Renaissance Italy (2017) and Feast & Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500–1800 (2019–2020) were underpinned by the research and expertise of scholars of clothing and textiles (Ulinka Rublack), food and urban consumption (Melissa Calaresu), and religion and global encounters (Mary Laven).

The close relationship with the Department of Applied Arts at the Fitzwilliam Museum has allowed the three historians unparalleled access to early modern objects, giving rise to new research questions, methods and arguments. This synergy has deepened through collaboration on the three exhibitions and production of the three associated scholarly yet accessible catalogues. The relationship has also resulted in lasting partnerships with businesses, charities and faith groups.