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Ligabue Magazine

Year XXXIX
Number 76
1th Semester - 2020

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Editorial

We go travelling, especially in time, in this issue of Ligabue Magazine: from classical Antiquity reinterpreted by Piranesi to the importance of fossils in the ancient world; from the invention of geographic globes to the exploration of the Bosphorus; and from the Norwegian islands where the Venetian merchant Pietro Querini learned of the existence of stockfish to the espionage manoeuvres allowing Paris to lay hands on the secret of making Murano mirrors, or to the Venetian restaurant which, in the second post-war period began to put together one of the most important art collections in the city. Giovan Battista Piranesi was born 300 years ago in Venice, but worked all his life in Rome, where he became an etcher, artist, architect, sculptor, archaeologist and art dealer. Pierluigi Panza describes the multifaceted artist and his studio, where freshly excavated Roman finds lay side by side with fake, restored and reassembled antique items. His workshop was regularly visited by wealthy Britons on the Grand Tour, who decorated their country houses with Piranesian objects. Exhibitions had been organised to mark the tricentenary but have been postponed because of Covid-19: Bassano del Grappa, Milan Rome and Venice. One of the most important art collections in post-war Venice was put together in the Ristorante all'Angelo by its owners, the Carrain family. Giandomenico Romanelli and Pascaline Vatin illustrate this prime example of a typically Venetian kind of collecting by restaurants and trattorias, which developed into cultural as well as culinary businesses. In the post-war period, the “Angelo” was a popular haunt with artists, collectors, actors and sports professionals. One of the regulars was Peggy Guggenheim, who always sat at the same specially reserved table. In January 1432, a small group of Venetian castaways landed on the island of Røst in the Lofoten archipelago in Norway. The commander was the Venetian patrician Pietro Querini, who had left Crete several months earlier with a cargo of Malvasia wine. The shipwrecked mariners were rescued and fed by the local population. They thus learned all about a kind of food that no one in the Mediterranean had ever seen before: stockfish, cod that was air dried to become as hard as wood. Querini was the first to bring stockfish to Venice, but it only began to be imported in the late 16th century. Natalino Russo describes with pictures and words this enchanting Norwegian archipelago. The ancient Greeks and Romans also found fossils, especially large Pleistocene mammals, in deposits where the remains surfaced. Of course, they didn’t know who those enormous bones belonged to and therefore attributed them to the creatures in their mythology: a huge prehistoric elephant femur surely belonged to a giant? And the dwarf elephant skulls found in Sicily, with a hole in the centre of the head where the trunk was attached, were inevitably associated with the Cyclops, who had only one eye in the middle of his forehead. Adrienne Mayor, an historian of ancient science at Stanford University, California, has written a book on fossils in Antiquity. Here she tells us about finds in Italy.
Franco Farinelli takes us into the fascinating world of globes, often improperly called world “maps”. He explains how they came into being and developed, and how even though Ptolemy was wrong when he placed the Earth at the centre of the universe, we are indebted to him for the concept of the terrestrial globe. Globes are not very user-friendly, but the inaccuracy of charts in the past caused shipwrecks and triggered off wars. The Earth finally “became” a globe when Christopher Columbus went in search of the East by sailing westwards. In doing so, he clearly already had in mind the idea of a spherical and not flat world as was commonly held at the time. Indeed, in contrast with our own commonplace view of the history of geography, he was actually returning to an ancient concept. In Hellenistic Egypt, therefore at the height of Antiquity, Eratosthenes had already even calculated the circumference of the Earth, and his figure was only slightly off the mark. The Bosphorus is a fascinating place, rich in history and many surprises. One initial surprising fact is that Bosphorus and Oxford mean the same thing: a “ford for oxen”. Bruno Cianci describes how two Italians were the first to explore it and understand the dynamics of the currents in the strait connecting the Mediterranean to the Black Sea: the young Bolognese count Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, in the late 17th century and, just under a century later, Lazzaro Spallanzani, a Jesuit abbot from Scandiano, near Reggio Emilia. Lastly, Alessandro Marzo Magno recounts a piece of industrial espionage that around 1665 involved the France of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the Sun King’s finance minister, in purloining the secret of manufacturing crystal mirrors from the master Murano glassmakers. The historic monopoly held by the island in the Venice lagoon was consequently broken, although it did continue to be the capital of art glass production.
These are the routes through history and geography awaiting you in this issue of our magazine. Bon voyage!

Real all editroial... Alberto Angela