Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A Cook-voyage Collection in Florence

The Duomo, Florence

Earlier this week I visited the Museo di Storia Natrale di Firenze where there is a collection of objects collected on Cook's voyages.  This was the first such collection to be systematically described and published, by Gignoli in 1893.  However, until work done by Adrienne Kaeppler, curator of Oceanic Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution, in the 1970s, it was not certain which voyages the collection is from, or how exactly the objects came to Florence.  Kaeppler discovered that Giovanni Fabrioni, an Italian Scientist and director of the Mint in Florence, and Felice Fontana, director of the museum in Florence, were listed as purchasers at the sale of the collection of George Humphrey, an art dealer,  in London in 1779.  In addition, Fabrioni knew Joseph Banks, the naturalist on the first voyage, and could have obtained specimens from him, or from other collectors.  He may still have been in London when the third voyage ships arrived, and been able to obtain specimens from Hawaii and the Northwest Coast of America.

(see 'Cook Voyage Artifacts in Leningrad, Berne and Florence Museums' edited by Adrienne L. Kaeppler, Bernice P. Bishop Museum Special Publication 66, Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, Hawaii 1978)

The Palazzo Nonfinito, Via Proconsul 12

Museum entrance
The Anthroplogy and Ethnology section of the museum is housed in the Palazzo Nonfinito ('unfinished palace'), Via Proconsul 12.  The Cook-voyage collections are displayed in two cases in a room with other Oceanic collections. 

Case displaying Cook-voyage collections
Second case - Tahitian Mourner's costume and Hawaiian objects

One of the most unusual parts of the collection in Florence is this painted barkcloth from Tahiti.  Other Tahitian barkcloths collected at the time are either plain, or decorated with red circles made by dipping the end of a plant stem on dye and using it as a stamp. 

Detail of decorated barkcloth