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Buy A Fetus, Meteorite Or Half A Dolphin's Head At The Oddest Auction In Paris

Keeping up a tradition that dates back more than five centuries, some contemporary collectors continue to assemble "curiosity cabinets," privately-owned assortments of skulls, stuffed animals, preserved octopi and other natural odds and

Cabinets of curiosities have existed since the 16th century (Daderot)
Cabinets of curiosities have existed since the 16th century (Daderot)
Louise Thomas

PARIS – Under the empty gaze of a stuffed owl, a ferret skeleton stretches its bleached vertebrae next to a sheep fetus. This isn't some 19th century sorcerer's den but rather the cabinet of curiosities of a 21st century collector.

"People began putting together natural history collections in the 16th century," says expert Michael Combrexelle. "The goal was to gather at home a sample of living creatures. Today, next to the traditional stuffed animals, ivory and skeletons, you can also find scientific instruments and minerals."

Though the early amateurs kept their treasures in large pieces of furniture with drawers called cabinets, modern collectors tend to have their items out on display, using things like stuffed birds and skulls as part of their home decoration.

Pierre Bazaigues, a specialized shop owner at the Saint-Ouen flea market in the north of Paris, has gotten used to lighting or presentation requests from buyers. "They're looking for strong pieces that catch the eye. Complex scientific instruments for example, or old globes."

Collectors are particularly fascinated by anything stored in formaldehyde. Some species cannot be stuffed – like octopi, squid or fetuses – and are kept in jars. "There has been a recent fad for anything that comes from the sea, like corals or rare shells of a certain size," says Combrexelle.

The cabinet of curiosities doesn't follow any rules. You can collect anything and the price range allows everyone to indulge. During the Feb. 6 auction held at Drouot in Paris by Artcurial, a stuffed weasel sold for 150 euros, a meteorite for 500 euros and a psittacosaurus dinosaur skeleton for 8,758 euros. Half a dolphin's head in a jar, which has an estimated value of between 800 to 900 euros, did not find a buyer.

Prized vanitas

In these types of auctions, many pieces come with legal documents. Today, some species are protected by national or international laws, making it necessary for buyers to acquire them with certificates proving their traceability and the fact that they were taken from nature prior the implementation of these restrictions.

But the real stars of these cabinets of curiosities, the 16th and 17th century vanitas, don't need these documents. They're worth tens of thousands of euros. Whether they're in a painting or a composition, they symbolize the meaninglessness of earthly life. Most include a human skull, a sort of memento mori (Latin for "remember you will die") for future generations. A morbid thought that is very popular these days, especially with contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst.

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - Daderot

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

A Russian Nuclear Bluff Or The Very Dangerous End Of "Mutually Assured Destruction"?

Retired Major-General Alexander Vladimirov wrote the Russian “war bible.” His words have weight. Now he has declared that the use of nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine is inevitable, citing a justification that consigns the principle of deterrence to the history books.

Photograph of a Russian Yars intercontinental ballistic missile system showcased during the annual Victory Day military parade.

May 9, 2023, Moscow: A Russian Yars intercontinental ballistic missile system during the annual Victory Day military parade.

Gavriil Grigorov/Kremlin Pool/ZUMA
Slavoj Žižek


LJUBLJANANuclear war is the “inevitable” conclusion of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That's the opinion of retired Major-General Alexander Vladimirov, from an interview he gave last week to the journalist Vladislav Shurygin, and reported by the British tabloid The Daily Mail.

The retired general and author of the General Theory of War, which is seen in Moscow as the nation's "war bible," warned: “For the transition to the use of weapons of mass destruction, only one thing is needed – a political decision by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief [Vladimir Putin].” According to Vladimirov, “the goals of Russia and the goals of the West are their survival and historical eternity.”

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That means, he concludes, that they will use all methods at their disposal in this conflict, including nuclear weapons. “I am sure that nuclear weapons will be used in this war – inevitably, and from this, neither we nor the enemy have anywhere to go.”

Recently, Christopher Nolan’s film Oppenheimer sparked outrage in India because it contained an intimate scene that made reference to the Bhagavad Gita. Many people took to Twitter to ask how the censor board could have approved this scene. A press release from the Save Culture, Save India Foundation read: “We do not know the motivation and logic behind this unnecessary scene on life of a scientist. A scene in the movie shows a woman making a man read Bhagwad Geeta aloud (during) sexual intercourse.”

My response to this scene is precisely the opposite: the Bhagavad Gita portrays cruel acts of military slaughter as a sacred duty, so instead we should be protesting that a tender act of bodily passion has been sullied by associating it with a spiritual obscenity. We should be outraged at the evil of “spiritualizing” physical desire.

Isn’t Vladimirov doing something similar in this interview? He is seeking to somehow elevate a (self-destructive, murderous) passion by couching it in obtuse terms such as “historical eternity.”

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