Assembling a collection does not only consist of lining up grandiose objects, but also means giving shape to a personal view of the world. The art of creating a chamber of wonders is both an arduous and very stimulating task.
Credit goes to Frederick Stibbert for setting up in Florence one of the most detailed and fascinating wunderkammer in the world in terms of size and historical value. A great gift was bestowed not only on Florence but upon humanity, helping us understand that man is first and foremost manufacturers, even in the art of warfare.
More than 56,000 works of art – mainly military paraphernalia – are held in the Museum, which was built in 1859 in Neo-Gothic style by Stibbert himself. The man started his collection casually at first and subsequently focusing on weapons, clothing, paintings, books and prints. However, his interests went further and branched out towards the East, reaching India, Turkey and Egypt (where he attended the inauguration of the Suez canal in 1869) – inspiring him to build an Egyptian style temple in the museum’s garden, perhaps following a design of his own.
Stibbert collected items on his journeys but also availed himself of a thick network of traders and acquaintances who kept him constantly up to date on the state of the antique market around the world. His collection grew thanks to an international approach to the world which was unusual in his times. His relentless quest made Stibbert an uncommon man to say the least, a precursor of future trends in Europe: he is believed to have donned an ‘English armour of 1370’ during the inauguration of the Gothic façade of the Duomo of Florence. Fashion however was always his main focus.
A section of the museum is dedicated to Oriental and European costume, with noteworthy items such as the gown worn by Emperor Napoleon for his crowning ceremony. Stibbert didn’t marry and neither did he have any direct heirs. He dedicated his entire life to what in his will he called ‘my Musem’, expressing the desire for his collection at Villa di Montughi in Florence to become a museum (currently known as the Stibbert Museum) and that it should be open to the public, with the caveat that the original layout be maintained just as he had designed it.