Life, customs and cosmogonies of the Meso- and South American cultures before Columbus, recounted by more than 230 works of art. A major exhibition tells us about The World that Never Was. Masterpieces from the Ligabue Collection that have never been previously exhibited, precious testimonies of the early Medici collections and international loans accompany us on a spectacular journey through the pre-Columbian civilisations.
At the dawn of the sixteenth century, Europe was shaken by an epochal discovery: the ‘Indies’, ‘The world that never was’. It was an event that unhinged the cultural vision of the traditional Rome - Greece - Orient axis; the meeting with a new continent; possibly the most important event in the history of mankind according to the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss.
The spectacular exhibition being held in Florence from 19 September 2015 to 6 March 2016 at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale is dedicated to ‘The World that Never Was’, to the many different pre-Columbian civilisations that had prospered for thousands of years in those lands. It presents a body of masterpieces almost all being shown for the first time that are an expression of the great civilisations of the so-called Meso-America (most of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, part of Honduras and of Salvador); and the territory of Panama.
The exhibition describes the Andes (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, through to Chile and Argentina): from the Olmec to the Maya and Aztecs; from the Chavin culture to those of the Tiahuanaco and the Moche, through to the Incas.
It was a Florentine, furthermore, Amerigo Vespucci, who was the first to realise that those lands discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 were not Indian islands off the coast of Japan, nor the sought after gates of Eden, but a ‘Mundus Novus’, a new continent that a few years later some geographers working at Saint-Denis des Voges wanted to name ‘America’ in his honour.
And the Medici, Florentine lords, were the first European rulers to decide to preserve some of the fascinating and often enigmatic objects from the ‘Indies’ in their collections, such as those of the Taino, the natives encountered by Columbus, which the conquistadores had brought to Europe. One of the first to consider those objects as genuine works of art was Albrecht Dürer who, confronted with Montezuma’s gifts to Cortes, which arrived in Brussels in 1520, wrote ‘These things are more beautiful than wonders [...] I have never in my life seen things that fill me with such joy as these objects’.