More than any other of the great exhibitions held here in recent years, Etruscan Enchantment. From the Secrets of Holkham Hall to the Wonders of the British Museum appears to have a deep, inextricable link to the place it's being exhibited at, the MAEC - Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca e della Città di Cortona. In fact, not only did the organisers elect to set up the exhibition in the very rooms of the museum, rather than those that are usually devoted to temporary exhibitions; in many cases, exhibits will even be presented in the very same display cabinets as permanent collection items.
The idea behind this choice was based on the very nature of the exhibition itself: a fascinating journey through time, providing a unique insight into the Italian influence on British culture, in the footsteps of 18th century collectors.
So, the first section of the exhibition focuses on the accounts of the grand tour through Italy that Thomas Coke, a wealthy commoner, undertook as a young man to further his classical education as was usual for many English gentlemen in the 17th century. Thomas Coke went on to become a lord and, in 1734, commenced the erection of his Palladian mansion of Holkham Hall, laying the foundations of his extraordinary art collections; these are, to this day, housed in the mansion and some of them have been granted on loan to the Cortona exhibition. During his stay in Florence, the young Thomas Coke came into possession of the only surviving copy of Thomas Dempster's manuscript De Etruria Regali which, after many vicissitudes, he had published with the collaboration of antiquarian Senator Filippo Buonarroti. A great collector and an engaged politician, Buonarroti was the first and perpetual Lucumon of the newly-established Accademia Etrusca. The publication of Thomas Dempster's long-forgotten manuscript heralded the dawn of a golden age of study and research that laid the foundations for the birth of modern Etruscology in a time in which a classical vision of archaeology was still predominant.
The second section of the exhibition displays exceptional items on loan from the British Museum, one of the world's greatest collections of artefacts from all ages and continents. Many of these items will be tellingly displayed side by side with items from the local Etruscan collections in the very rooms of that Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca which, since its very beginnings, has been amassing an extensive collection of absolutely heterogeneous items from all historical ages, effectively saving locally found artefacts from being shipped away to foreign museums. This is perhaps the reason why both today and in previous exhibitions that the MAEC has hosted in collaboration with the world's leading museums, only very few of the items on display were originally found in Cortona; and this is not something to regret, but rather to be proud of as it highlights the key role that the Accademia Etrusca di Cortona has played in preserving our rich local heritage throughout the centuries.
So, after briefly providing some historical and methodological background on the ground-floor, the exhibition, starting from the Sala Medicea on the first-floor, takes the visitor on a journey back in time through the Galleria dei Mappamondi and the Tommasi rooms and reaches its climax in the Sala del Biscione, dominated by emblematic masterpieces such as the Orator, a copy of the Chimera and a large pietra fetida (limestone) statue from Chiusi. Only part of the items usually displayed in the museum rooms were relocated in order to make room for those on temporary display; most of them were, in fact, kept in their original location to underline the closeness and the conceptual dialogue that exist between the temporary and the permanent exhibition.
Compelling exhibition graphics designed so that items on temporary display can be easily told apart from those belonging to the museum's permanent collection help visitors through this heterogeneous exhibition. The exhibition is complemented by display cases containing bibliographic materials as well as graphical and archaeological items accompanied by helpful, unobtrusive captions and educational panels providing additional insight into their content.
And therein, in this close tie to the location it's being held at, lies the uniqueness of this exhibition: an exhibition that, far from intending to be a fleeting display of art objects, is rather meant to incorporate different types of materials into a seamless whole to bring insight and testimony to an age in which the foundations of modern historical and archaeological thought were laid.
A choice that also reflects a far-sighted approach, as investments were made in display equipment that will be integrated in the existing facilities to support MAEC's continuing efforts to renovate and upgrade its permanent museum structure.
Another good reason, in our opinion, to visit an exhibition that will allow you to explore forms of thinking and cultures that, although in different historical circumstances, arose from a common intention to disseminate historical knowledge and ensure its continuity in time.
Paolo Bruschetti - Paolo Giulierini - Andrea Mandara - Francesca Pavese