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In the second half of the 19th century, many museums in Europe gathered handmade artifacts from other continents. With a positivist attitude, they represent the products of human labor in different geographical regions, encouraging reflections on ornamentation and design. These objects were collected by travelers whose task was to explore and conduct research, but also diplomats, businessmen, aristocrats, and the clergy.

The ethnographic collection in Turin’s Museo Civico was established in 1864, and as early as the following decade it boasted an important group of works from Panama, Costa Rica, and Peru, before Spanish colonization, donated by the consul Giovanni Battista Donalisio, and a rare collection of over 200 artifacts from Australia, Melanesia, Polynesia, Micronesia, Cook Islands, and the Austral Islands, donated by the Piedmont painter Ernesto Bertea.

In 1876 Zaverio Calpini, a merchant from Val d’Ossola, donated to the Museum over 1,500 artifacts purchased in Mexico. This is an outstanding collection: among the 799 objects that today can be traced to this donation, many belong to pre-Columbian cultures with several absolute masterpieces of Olmec, Mayan, and Mixtec-Aztec art.

As regards Asian culture, in 1887 the Museum acquired a collection of sculptures, sacred books, weapons, textiles, objects in bronze and for everyday use from Burma, a gift of Bernardo Scala, one of the many Italian technicians who moved there following the peace treaty signed in 1871 between Burma, current-day Myanmar, and Italy to favor their industrial development and modernization. The Museum also acquired from Korea, which opened up to Westerners in 1876, books and fans, donated in 1888 by the naval officer Ernesto Filipponi di Mombello.

The first, few objects from the African continent were acquired by the Museum in 1877, purchased by the diplomat Aynardo Benso di Cavour on his travels to Sennar, between Egypt and Sudan, in 1862. A rich collection would also be added in 1955, including objects, musical instruments, and weapons donated by Tiziano Veggia, an engineer involved in building the railway in Congo.

Glifo A4

Things from other worlds

Discover the exhibition "Things from other worlds. Collections of travelers between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries", hosted at Palazzo Madama from 6 April to 11 September 2017: a journey across four continents illustrated by works of art from the museum's rich ethnographic collections.