Hybridizations

Encounters between cultures in the objects of the exhibition "Global Milan"

Global Milan - Room II (2021) by Museum of CulturesMudec - Museum of Cultures

The "Global Milan" exhibition traces the relationships that Milan has established with other continents over the centuries since the Modern Era. The objects on display reflect these relationships, configuring themselves as true cultural hybridizations.

We will present some of these objects, and retrace through their stories the encounters and interconnections between different cultures.

Cocunut and silver jicaras (Cups) (17th century) by Western MexicoMudec - Museum of Cultures

1. Coconut jicaras with silver mounting

West Mexico, 15th or 16th century

In the small room that recreates the museum of 17th-century collector Manfredo Settala you can find these two curios jicaras (cups used by the Maya to sip cocoa-based drinks) which immediately strike as hybridizations.

The habit to drink chocolate in jicaras ("chicchere" in Italian) started spreading in Europe in the 16th century, as a result of the conquest of America, with the Spanish importing both cocoa and jicaras.  Originally, though, these are made of desiccated and dug fruits similar to pumpkins, as indicated by their original Nahuatl name ("xicalli").  Why then are these jicaras made of coconut?

Cocunut and silver jicaras (Cups) (17th century) by Western MexicoMudec - Museum of Cultures

This is the first hybridization: coconut is native to Southeast Asia and was introduced in Mexico in the 16th century by the Spanish (who also controlled the Philippines). It was soon adopted as an alternative material in the production of jicaras.

A second layer of hybridization

On the other hand, the silver pedestal and handles - that make these jicaras more hybrid and more suitable for the tables of the Old World's aristocracy - are foreign to the indigenous tradition, and were sometimes produced directly in Europe.

This also happened with other products imported from far away: Chinese porcelains.

Jar with Imari decoration (18th century) by Chinese and European manufactureMudec - Museum of Cultures

2. A chinese jar?

A very desired product, because its production process remained long unknown in Europe, porcelains were imported in great quantities.
Admired for their floral decoration, colours, and forms, vases were nevertheless often completed with a "European touch": a metallic mounting.

Jar with Imari decoration (18th century) by Chinese and European manufactureMudec - Museum of Cultures

This particular porcelain vase (XVIII century) has a fine decoration in Imari style, with its characterizing colours - blue, red and white - completed with gold details. The addition of a bronze pedestal and serpent-like handles transforms it into a jar.

The combination of the so-called white gold (porcelain) and golden bronze (often of French manufacture) is typical of many luxury products of 18th-century Europe. 

Entering the second room of the exhibition, where the jar is displayed, you can find another example of hybridized jicaras, probably created in America directly for exportation.

Polycrhome jicaras with golden foil (front view)Mudec - Museum of Cultures

3. Polychrome jiicaras

These elegant jicaras, also pertaining to Settala's collection, are decorated with a well-conceived mixture of European and Andean motifs.
While the floral decoration is unmistakably European, the border is engraved with geometrical motifs, in harmony with the local taste.

Porcelain plate with "Judgment of Paris" (half of 17th century (Qing dinasty)) by Chinese manufacture (Qianlong Kingdom)Mudec - Museum of Cultures

4. Surprising decorations

Another poignant example of hybridization can also be found in room 2.
This 17th-century plate decorated with plum enamels from the famille rose has an unusual subject for Chinese porcelain: the greek mythological scene of "The judgement of Paris".

Porcelain plate with "Judgment of Paris" (half of 17th century (Qing dinasty)) by Chinese manufacture (Qianlong Kingdom)Mudec - Museum of Cultures

Although the subject has certainly been chosen to meet the European taste in a commercial perspective, its rendition has a unique character because of its unexpected style, far from the codes of Western Art.

Serving plate (Visconti Arese Borromeo Cusani set) (15th-16th century) by Chinese manufactureMudec - Museum of Cultures

5. Visconti Borromeo Arese - Cusani plate

This other plate is also a result of the Chinese-European connection through porcelain. 
Specifically, it is part of a porcelain table set commissioned for the Milanese noble Giulio Visconti Borromeo Arese, probably as a gift on the occasion of his marriage to Teresa Cusani.

Serving plate (Visconti Arese Borromeo Cusani set) (15th-16th century) by Chinese manufactureMudec - Museum of Cultures

Both coats of arms are in fact depicted in the center of the plate.
Commissioning a specific drawing to the Chinese kilns was common practice in 18th-century Northern Europe. 

Rarer in Italy, it was probably made easier in this case by Giulio's connections with Flanders. Commissioning decorations for porcelains was a long process: from the shipment of the drawings to the arrival of the porcelain in Europe at least a year would pass.

Majolica water recipient with lid (half of 18th century) by Italian manufacture - Lodi, Fabbrica di Antonio FerrettiMudec - Museum of Cultures

Chinoiserie

The passion for Chinese porcelains was so strong that in Old Continent factories imitating the "white gold" soon appeared. They produced very fine ceramics and majolicas, imitating the reflecting effect of porcelain thrugh glazing, but the result was never quite the same.

Majolica water recipient with lid (half of 18th century) by Italian manufacture - Lodi, Fabbrica di Antonio FerrettiMudec - Museum of Cultures

6. Majolica water container

Lodi (Northern Italy), 18th-century 

This container in majolica combines baroque decorations and a mythological scene with a curious knob for the lid: a Chinese man. Inspired by the figures in Chinese paintings, this element reinforces the impression of a porcelain object.

Asafo flag with tree and cat (20th century) by Fante CultureMudec - Museum of Cultures

7. Asafo Flags

Changing continent and context, another example of hybridization are the flags of Ghana's Asafo companies.
Among the firsts in Central Africa to meet the Portugues exploring the west coast in XV century, Fante people were struck by their military technology and banners.

Asafo flag with tree and cat (20th century) by Fante CultureMudec - Museum of Cultures

The local defense militias called Asafo companies appropriated themselves of some of the European military codes, such as flags and parades. 

Asafo flag with two men and a horse, Fante Culture, 20th century, From the collection of: Mudec - Museum of Cultures
Show lessRead more

Asafo flag with two men and a horse (20th century) by Fante CultureMudec - Museum of Cultures

Their famous colorful flags integrate local visual culture (especially visual representation of proverbs) with elements of the European one, such as eagles and griffins.
Guns, planes, and ships are also used as metaphors for strength. 

Asafo flag with two man and a star comet, Fante Culture, 20th century, From the collection of: Mudec - Museum of Cultures
Show lessRead more

Asafo flag with two man and a star comet (20th century) by Fante CultureMudec - Museum of Cultures

Finally, the fabrics employed were imported ones (e.g. cotton), as a sign of prestige.

Tupu (Brooch) (18th-19th century) by Quechua Peoples of Central-Southern AndesMudec - Museum of Cultures

8. Tupus: a story of cultural resistance

Also in the context of colonization, but getting back to America, a fascinating story of hybridization concerns the tupus, long pointed pins worn by native Andean populations to hold in place their capes and tunics.

Tupu (Brooch) (18th-19th century) by Quechua Peoples of Central-Southern AndesMudec - Museum of Cultures

This relatively recent specimen still carries the form acquired by tupus during the first colonial period, when Spanish rulers prohibited the natives to wear their traditional clothes and accessories.
To keep wearing their symbols, the Inca nobility changed the form of tupus.

The long brooches with a circular or sun-shaped head then started resembling pointed spoons. On the other hand, since many nobles were accorded privileges by the Spanish rulers (especially who collaborated to keep social order), tupus started being engraved with symbols from the Spanish Kings' and Emperors' coats of arms.

Getting back to room 3, where the African collection is displayed, we find some hybrid objects connected to religion.

Congolese crucifix with praying figure (19th-20th century) by Bakongo Culture - Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire)Mudec - Museum of Cultures

9. Congolese crucifixes

This crucifix from Congo testifies the hybrid cult which flourished from 1491, when King Nzinga Nkuwu / Joao I converted to Christianity.
People then fused previous cults and rites with the new one, and combined the respective iconographies producing hybridized cultual objects.

Congolese crucifix with praying figure (19th-20th century) by Bakongo Culture - Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire)Mudec - Museum of Cultures

An important example

The crucifix itself was often used, wrapped in medicinal cloths, as a propitiatory object.  
Furthermore, as can be appreciated in this specimen, its standard iconography was enriched with the addition of little praying figures that hark back to Kongo funerary sculptures.

Mami Wata altar (20th century) by Peoples of TogoMudec - Museum of Cultures

10. Mami Wata

Another religious hybrid is the important cult of Mami Wata or Mami Water.
Spread throughout contemporary Africa, it combines elements from the Hindu religious tradition with voodoo elements, and many scholars also claim that its origin lies in the connections with Europe.

Mami Wata altar (20th century) by Peoples of TogoMudec - Museum of Cultures

A syncretic goddess

Their research points to a visual hybridization: in XVIII century a European print depicting a snake charmer would have spread in India and Africa , where it came to be associated respectively with a Hindu male deity and spirits of waters (traditionally associated with snakes).

This last association also explains her frequent mermaid-like appearance. 
Very popular throughout all of Africa, the voluptuous Mami Wata is associated with pleasure, richness, and individual success, somewhat contrasting a variety of earlier cults linked to community values.

Her syncretic genesis and impressive spread is living proof of the power of global connections that emerged with the Modern era.

Merenda Lucini (Portrait of Lucini family after hunting) (17th century) by Lombard painterMudec - Museum of Cultures

If you want to know more about these objects, search for the hashtag #ibridazioniculturali on Mudec social media, and come visit "Global Milan" to find other hybrid objects.

By the way, can you find signs of the hybridization of global material culture in this milanese painting?

Credits: Story

Elena Ricetti

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.
Google apps