Monday, 17 August 2015

"Of Which Our Book Doth Speak" Exhibition

Part of the VeryBello! initiative sponsored by EXPO 2015, this exhibition borrows a verse of The Travels of Marco Polo to start an imaginary travel through discoveries, food and tourism from the XVII century to Modern times, when getting to know "the others" was a first step to get to know ourselves.
The location of the exhibition (which was really filled with all kind of interesting documents, maps and artworks!) was the suggestive Biblioteca Casanatense, created by the friars of the Dominican order to host the huge donation of Cardinal Girolamo Casanate.






The plaque above says that those who were caught while stealing the books of the library were destined to be excommunicated. The library was in fact opened to the public and free to access, as it is right now.

Anyway, the exhibition was divived in "geographical areas", following an imaginary trip around the world.
The first section is dedicated to Europe, which "personification" made me smile, as I found the image of a lady with a gun quite fitting!
I was really amused to see so many and so detailed "touristic guides" since 1600's... They included folding maps, and suggestions for "marvels" and local food to witness:



Above you can see prints depicting some cool things that you could find in Germany, to mention one: the Großes Faß of the Castle of Heidelberg, and the fishes that can be found in the Danub.

The second area was dedicated to Asia, with a peculiar spotlight on Middle-East.
Routes to the East were known since Roman times, a favourite spot for travellers, merchants and religious orders.


The image above shows a dinner in Bahrein: as the weather is extremely hot, rich tourists are enjoying their meal in a pool!

That artwork is part of the legendary Codex Casanatense.
A collection of 142 pictures in ink and watercolours and with short captions in Portuguese dating the XVI century, they are supposed to be painted by an Indian attendant during the trip around Asia of Jesuits or merchants.
Perfectly preserved and fun to watch, they are a wonderful example of cultural interconnection.

Main feature of this need to trade with the East was the acquisition of precious spices.
This book offers a review, making an effort to show us how the spices looked in their natural form and habit:
But it's not all about India; explorers went to know places like China and Japan; here are some pictures where you can see mysterious locations as the Forbidden City or even the "throne room" of the Japanese Emperor, unaccessible even now:




Next is the turn of Africa, that unfortunately was popular as a place from where to grab slaves-- It's interesting to note, though, that many scholars where intrigued by these apparently savage locations and its marvellous products and habits of the locals.




Above you can see, among other things, a guide to recognize the flags of each African country that traded in Europe, a typical method of transportation, and the tree and fruits of the mysterious Baobab.

But if Africa was considered mysterious and savage, nothing could beat the charm of the new continent recently discovered, America!







Besides the habits and lifestyle of the locals, the explorers of the time were totally charmed by the new vegetables, fruits and animals that could be find there-- From corn to chocolate through tomatoes, everything looked amazing and delicious.
--I found the "allegory" of the sunflower quite fun!

Maps started to get more and more detailed, but there was still a huge discovery to do... Oceania.

The lack of details of the old maps is kinda disturbing-- We'll have to wait for the travels of James Cook on 1768 to get a more precide idea of the various islands that constitute this newly found continent pertaining "the oceans"!



This last pics is a "portable" dictionary featuring some words translated in the various dialects of the various islands of the "Southern Seas"!

After this fun travel around the world is the time to visit a bit of Italy; there were reports by popular artists and poets (here is Goethe) but also lots of foreigners who tried to guide their "compatriots" through a difficult and adventurous travel...



You could see some of the first "recipe books" and "wine guides" here!

And of course a section dedicated to the city of Rome. Not just peculiar spots, markets and the like, but also lots of "practical" guides, like the guide for the prices to pass through the various borders of the cities or the prices to rent a horse or a chariot for the travel--!




Long story short, a real travel around the world, a must-see exhibition!

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