There was a time when a world view could be physically evoked through an allegorical sculpture that showed the essential structure of the universe, our world and mankind – from the beginning of time till all eternity. Usually, subjects like these were the province of a select group of specialist scholars, who debated the interrelationship of the Earth, stars, Moon and Sun, the primal shapes of Euclidean geometry, the nature of human knowledge and the connection between the divine and terrestrial spheres.
In these rooms, Matthijs van Boxsel will be taking you on a tour of this ancient world, which formulated cosmological systems that only few people today would recognise as a literal description of the order of our universe. Nevertheless, they rely on principles and terminology that we use to this day to perceive order and meaning in the chaos that envelopes us. In other words, prepare to be amazed – by mankind’s stubborn tendency to surmise a hidden symbolic order behind a mass of chaotic, meaningless and perfectly coincidental phenomena. Love and death, fire and water, Heaven and Earth, God’s intention with Man: bound together by geometric and physical ties that embody the order and deeper meaning of everything around us.
These are powerful and mysterious images that appear all-encompassing and eternal. At the same time, they’re full of absurd details and bizarre peculiarities. They are truly allegorical systems that attempt to merge religion, philosophy, science and mathematics into an image of the universe and human society. An impressive ambition – and for centuries, an extremely influential one.
Since the 17th century, the natural sciences may have offered a towering alternative to this system of thought. But you’ll be surprised how many recognisable elements of this world view continue to pop up in astrology, homeopathy, New Age, esoteric philosophies, fringe medicine and fantasy and science fiction films, games, books and comic books. As well as art. We basically can’t help ourselves, which means we might as well celebrate it: this urge to divine, describe and depict a symbolic order in the universe. Enter the Cosmographic Chambers and marvel about what lies within. Tag along with Mr Boxsel – you’re in good hands.