FLORENCE, ITALY – The year 2012 marks the fifth centennial of the death of Amerigo Vespucci, one of the discoverers of the American continents and, especially, the one who gave his name to the new lands.
The Soprintendenza Speciale per il Patrimonio Storico, Artistico ed Etnoantropologico e per il Polo Museale della città di Firenze intends to commemorate the great navigator who was born in Florence in 1454, with an exhibition (July 3-Decembre 8 at Andito degli Angiolini and Galleria del Costume) dedicated to the native inhabitants of North America and, in particular, of the lands that European colonists penetrated in their advance westward from the XVII century through the XIX century.
For the realisation of this ambitious project, the Soprintendenza has availed of the collaboration of the Gilcrease Museum of Tulsa, Oklahoma, one of the most important museums for its wealth of historical tokens of the North-American continent and for the largest collection of artistic and handicraft manufactures concerning the history of the American West.
Founded in 1949 by oilman Thomas Gilcrease of the Muskogee-Creek Nation, the Museum is a unicum in the American panorama, for the exceptional vastness of its collections, most of which were collected by its founder, animated by a profound interest in the history of his forefathers and of the native populations. Property of the city of Tulsa which jointly administers it with the University of the city, the Gilcrease Museum represents a fundamental point of reference for studies on the Native Americans.
The Florence show will present a selection of the most precious and significant pieces from the American museum, and will open in the Andito degli Angiolini with a historical section that introduces the various phases in the discovery of America and its colonisation; a map will show the locations of the settlements of the major tribes before and after the exodus from their lands. This section will also touch on aspects of the tribes’ social organisation before colonisation, and the subsequent contamination of Indian culture by Western culture; particular attention will be devoted to the iconographic tokens of the early XX century by great American photographer and ethnologist, Edward Curtis who dedicated himself to documenting the civilisation of the Native Americans who were by then risking extinction.
The exhibition finds one of its most suggestive locations in the Galleria del Costume’s Sala della Meridiana with its eighteenth-century frescoed ceiling by Medici court painter Anton Domenico Gabbiani, which celebrates Amerigo Vespucci alongside Galileo Galilei, with allusions to the discovery of the New World and its inhabitants. This location will host the show’s most important section which will have an anthropological perspective, and exhibit artefacts by the various indigenous Nations, both commonly-used and ceremonial objects: the well-known plumed headdresses, pottery, weapons, jewellery of the most varied forms, typologies and materials, such as necklaces made of animal tusks and claws, splendid clothing made from animal hides and with lively decorations consisting, for the most part, of brightly coloured glass beads, and other articles of both male and female clothing. This section is accompanied by a rich iconographic apparatus consisting of paintings, sculpture and photography from the XIX century to the early XX century, executed by artists who entered into close contact with the Native Americans, and depicted their everyday life. Among these artists are Joseph Henry Sharp who authored the exhibition’s masterpiece that be displayed in the Gallery’s ballroom: Crucita, a Girl from Taos. Beside the painting, in a suggestive comparison, are the clothing and objects utilised for the painting, which belong to the Museum.
Finally, the exhibition will enable the general public to appraise significant tokens of Native American civilisation, known to the public only through the imaginative reconstructions of American films, and the exclusive object of study of cultural anthropologists.