Objects from other worlds

Palazzo Madama

Objects from other worlds. Travelers' Collections Between the 19th and 20th Centuries.
In the second half of the 19th Century many European museums hosted and displayed finds and artefacts coming from distant lands. Seeking ways to understand and interpret their own history and culture in a positivistic manner, they displayed manmade objects from different ages and continents.   These objects, of surprising shape, design and use are a marvellous source of inspiration for both art and industry. They were collected by a wide range of people, from travellers in charge of research and exploration, to diplomats, business people, traders, aristocrats and clergy.   The development of the ethnographic collection of the Civic Museum of Turin began in 1864 and by the 1870’s it already boasted a rare repertoire of artefacts from Oceania as well as significant works from Central America. Donations from Asia and Africa were subsequently added. Some of these works are on display in the Museum of Oriental Art in Turin and the rest are stored in the museum’s vaults.  
Art from the Congo Basin
In 1862 the Marquis Ainardo Benso di Cavour (1833 to 1875) a diplomat in the Kingdom of Italy travelled to Sennar, between Egypt and Sudan. Together with Giammartino Arconati Visconti, he traversed the Nubia to reach the White Nile which from Lake Victoria joins the Nile in Khartoum.   “Our journey was extremely happy, we spent 40 days in the desert […] the only unfortunate event was when Arconati caught a fever while we were with the savages and he had to cross the desert in a type of cage borne on a camel, not having the energy to ride on top of that very nasty animal.”   On his return, Ainardo loaded 11 cases containing “collection items”: arrows, swords, naturalistic finds and everyday items, musical instruments and a sarcophagus with a mummified skeleton. In 1877 some of these objects were donated to the city museum by Ainardo's nephew and heir, Eugenio De Roussy de Sales.

In Africa drums is considered the most important musical instrument and it accompanies every moment of community life.

Sanzas belong to the category of ideophones, musical instruments whose sound is produces by the vibration of the material with wich the body is made. sanzas are made of a wooden case of resonance to whick metal sheets are applied.

Metalworking is an art that as been practised in Africa for over two thousand years: blades and knives of different style and size have always performed utility, ritual, social ed economic functions.

Art from Burma
In 1871 the Kingdom of Burma signed a friendship and trade agreement with the kingdom of Italy, the purpose of which was the development and modernisation of local Burmese industry. A significant number of Italians moved to Burma, many of whom were technicians, mechanics and engineers. Bernardo Scala, chief mechanic at the Turin Armoury, established an arms factory with his younger brother in the capital Mandalay. After the United Kingdom occupied Burmese territory in 1886, Scala returned to Italy taking with him a significant collection of idols, weapons, cloth and other everyday items which he offered to the Civic Museum.
Central America
In the second half of the 18th-century, developments in transoceanic navigation brought America ever closer. Zaverio Calpini (Vanzone 1820-1905) set off from Val d’Ossola and reached Mexico City where he set up an importing company specialising in optical equipment and instruments for engineering and design. During his years in Mexico, Calpini also acted as the honorary Consul for Italy and gave support to the new migrants founding the Charitable Society in 1850.   Having sold his company in 1867, Calpini returned to Piedmont. He donated a rich collection of American fauna samples to the Museo Galletti di Domodossola and over 1500 artefacts were donated to the Civic Museum of Turin in 1876. Among the 799 objects identified as coming from that donation, many belong to pre-Columbian cultures and count undisputed works from Olmecan, Mayan and Mixteco-Aztecan art.

Urns are one of the characteristic aspects of zapotec art. They are vases with a figure on the front portraying a divinity or priest or members of the nobility. Many urns represent the Rain God Cocijo, with a masked face and a trunk nose.

Objects and precious ornaments from Panama,Costa Rica and Peru
Giovanni Battista Donalisio was the Italianconsul in Panama in thesecond half of the 19th century.Interested in the pre-Spanishcultures of the Central Americanisthmus, he collected practical objects and precious ornaments from Panama,Costa Rica and Peru.

Despite the enormous number of gold objects mde by Chimu craftsmen, only rare specimen have survived because, in addition to the Conquerors, the tombs had been violated by the Incas before them.

Oceania - the Bertea donation
“Another very important donation was recently received by the Civic Museum from the honourable lawyer Ernesto Bertea, who is also a respected painter. Owner of a significant ethnographic collection which he himself assembled with great love and attention during his travels and comprised of many bows, arrows, catapults, mallets and clubs of varying value, threads and cloths, oars of all shapes finely carved with different designs; selected items generally from the remotest regions”. La Stampa 5/5 /1872.   Ernesto Berta (Pinerolo 1836-1904) travelled throughout Europe and visited the Universal Exhibitions in London and Paris but little is known of his intercontinental trips. The collection is made up of over 200 artefacts originating from Australia, Melanesia, Micronesia, The Cook Islands and French Polynesia.

These ceremonial paddles probably come from the central Solomon (Choiseul, Santa Isabel, a group of New Georgia). Some have simple lines and blacks and ocher geometric patterns.

Fiji Islands weapons occupy an important place in the heritage of Oceania preserved in Western museums. Clubs and spears were avidly collected by Europeans who saw in them the confirmation of their picture of the savage population of the Islands. In turn, the Fijians were astonished by the power of European weapons.

Credits: Story

Museo Etnografico e di Scienze Naturali Missioni della Consolata di Torino e il Museo Etnologico Missionario del Colle Don Bosco.
Mostra curata da Maria Paola Ruffino e Paola Savio.
Main Sponsor Autocentauro/Mercedes-Benz

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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