On the occasion of the 100th birthday of the Clemens-Sels-Museum Neuss, the "Neuss Wunderkammer" was intended to commemorate a collection concept from the early days of the museum's history: The chambers of art and curiosities prevalent in the late Renaissance and Baroque periods grew out of the great enthusiasm for the unknown and strange inspired by the discovery of America. They presented objects of the most diverse origins, meanings and purposes as a theatrum mundi, an image of the world in miniature. In this way, the mostly princely owners of these collections not only demonstrated education and taste, but also symbolically attained the status of "world rulers." The best-known chambers of art and curiosities include the Munich Kunstkammer of Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria, built between 1563 and 1567 (parts of this collection are now housed at Trausnitz Castle in Landshut), the Kunstkammer of Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol at Ambras Castle near Innsbruck, which was specially built as a museum in 1573, the Prague Kunstkammer of Emperor Rudolf II. 1607 to 1611, and the Green Vault in Dresden, the treasury of the Saxon Elector Augustus the Strong, established between 1723 and 1730.
Ideal for these princely art cabinets was the division of the collection into Naturalia, Artificialia, Scientifica and Exotica: Naturalia included minerals, shells, animal and plant specimens, as well as ancient works of art, since they were recovered from the earth in a similar way to fossils. Artificialia included paintings, sculptures, and all forms of artistic refinement of natural raw materials, such as silver and gold smithing, porcelain, or ivory carvings. Musical instruments, instruments for measuring time and space, mechanical automata and globes comprised the area of Scientifica, while artifacts from East Asia and America belonged to the Exotica.
In terms of intellectual history, the museum concept of the Kunst- und Wunderkammer is not only part of a Christian occidental tradition, but also on the threshold of the Enlightenment. The notion of a knowledge of the universal connection of all things mediated by close observation is an expression of a worldview in which the unity of history, art, nature, and science that can be experienced through the senses attests to a divine order of the world. At the same time, the model of the chamber of art and curiosities embraces the inexhaustible and playful mutability of natural forms, illustrating a phenomenon that was one of the foundations of the theory of evolution in the 19th century. Many 20th-century artists such as Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Francis Bacon, and Joseph Beuys also turned their studios into cabinets of curiosities en miniature, hodgepodges of found artifacts and naturalia, playfully drawing inspiration from the associative diversity of their forms.