It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our much loved President Honorary Giancarlo Ligabue on Sunday, 25 January last.
We are convinced that the best way to show our gratitude and affection is to continue his work with dedication and enthusiasm.
The honorary president of the “Gruppo Ligabue”, Giancarlo Ligabue was born in Venice on 30 October 1931, the fourth child of Anacleto and Zita Mazzieri. From the late 1960s Ligabue developed and expanded worldwide the naval catering and services supply business, established by his father in 1919.
After studying economics in Venice, he obtained a Ph.D. in palaeontology from the Sorbonne, Paris. Throughout his life he divided his time between his activities as a palaeontologist and explorer and his commitments as an entrepreneur.
From 1962 he was president of the Reyer basketball club for almost 20 years. Under his guidance, the club returned to the top league and took its place among the great teams of Italian basketball.
He was Honorary Consul to Sweden, a board member of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Venezia and the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, a member of the Istituto Veneto di Scienze Lettere e Arti and president of the Venice Natural History Museum (which houses hundreds of items that he donated, including a dinosaur skeleton).
In the 1970s he founded the Study and Research Centre that bears his name (for several years now his son Inti has also been involved in its management), headquartered in Venice. He took part in or directed – in collaboration with major world universities – 130 expeditions on all five continents. He made significant palaeontological and archaeological discoveries – some dinosaur exemplars are named after him – and also brought to light deposits of hominid fossils.
He was awarded honorary degrees from five universities: Bologna, Venice, Modena, Lima (Peru) and Ashgabat (Turkmenistan). In 2000, in Paris, the Study and Research Centre was awarded the UNESCO prize for the popularisation of science and commitment to museum activities. Popularising science was a crucial activity for Giancarlo, who founded and published the six-monthly bilingual Ligabue Magazine, now in its thirty-third year, and important series of books on archaeology, anthropology and ethnology. The most significant titles include Il Pane e la chiglia (1985), Battriana (1988), Prima dell’Alfabeto (1989), Popoli in bilico (1990), Mongolia (1992), Ecce homo (1999), and I cavalieri delle steppe (2000). He also produced over 70 documentaries, many of which were shown on television programmes conducted by Piero and Alberto Angela and on other Italian and foreign TV networks.
He was a councillor of the international WWF and a member of the European Parliament (also group leader) from 1994 to 1999 with Forza Italia.
For many years he was chairman of the Veneto Committee of the Cancer Research Association (AIRC).
He was awarded the Silver Medal of the Order of Merit for Culture and Art and was a Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic and a Commander of the Order of the Polar Star of the Kingdom of Sweden.
In 2005 in acknowledgement for his great contribution to cultural and entrepreneurial activities, he was awarded the Keys to the City of Venice.
To bear witness to the highly varied cultural activities of our President, we are proud to quote some significant recollections by:
Massimo Cacciari, a philosopher and former Mayor of Venice, who was very close to Giancarlo Ligabue, commemorates him as follows: "I am extremely sad to hear of his death. For a long time I had been bound to him by a relationship of esteem and friendship as well as collaboration. Despite our political differences, we agreed on very many things and especially as regards the city of Venice and the problems of its future. I worked on very cordial terms with him for the good of the city. Giancarlo was one of the most remarkable Venetians in recent decades. His research, vast interests and the results of his Study Centre brought contemporary Venice to the fore because his explorations – which even discovered new civilisations – had a truly international significance. Thanks also to him, Venice became a cultural capital. I hope that the city will commemorate him in a fitting manner. For years there has been talk of creating a “Ligabue Museum” to host the results of his expeditions and studies. It's vitally important that this project be implemented for the memory owed to Giancarlo and for the city."
Piero Angela, the presenter of the television programme Quark remembers him in this way: "Very few industrialists like him have used their own resources to pursue fascinating projects. Like a Renaissance prince, he surrounded himself with internationally renowned experts of great learning. In our programme Quark we followed his expeditions in Egypt, Brazil and Papua New Guinea. These explorations and journeys were always thrilling. Giancarlo was eager for knowledge and generous. A man of rare qualities.”
Giancarlo Ligabue and the Venice Natural History Museum
Venice Natural History Museum
Giancarlo Ligabue was an eclectic personality in Venetian culture. A highly successful entrepreneur, a politician and always committed to the world of research and scientific communication, he died on the evening of 25 January 2015.
He was deeply committed to the Venice Natural History Museum from the time of his celebrated African expeditions in the early 1970s when, in collaboration with the palaeontologist Philippe Taquet, he brought to light the skeleton of a Ouranosaurus nigeriensis and made other important finds in the Sahara. This event had great media coverage which, on one hand, instilled the idea of creating a scientific foundation (later officialised on 12 October 1978 as the Study and Research Centre) and, on the other, injected new life into the Museum, after years of decline and a low profile.
His palaeontological material was presented to the City of Venice in 1974. The conditions dictated by Ligabue were that the material should be "fittingly displayed", as he himself wrote to the museum director Antonio Giordani Soika. In the same letter Ligabue enclosed the arrangements for exhibiting the palaeontological finds in the Museum and offered to contribute to the expense of transport and installation.
The material found during the Sahara expeditions was displayed in the “Dinosaur Room”: besides the almost complete Ouranosaurus skeleton, there was also a gigantic crocodile (Sarcosuchus imperator), fossil tree trunks and many other items.
The room was officially opened on 26 April 1975. For the time, the display was very modern had had a powerful impact. The exhibits were displayed inside a suggestive setting created by large photographic panels and other fossils belonging to the same deposit. A series of back-lit images illustrated the environment in which the Ligabue team had worked and the techniques used to collect the finds. The room was so successful that the City Council even raised the price of admission, which had been unchanged for twenty years (only 30 lire). There was a sharp rise in visitors and the cost of admission was put up to 400 lire for adults.
Ligabue's arrival on the scene of the Museum’s activities brought new energy and enthusiasm. On one hand, he procured new sources of funding and also elicited a greater interest in the Museum from the City Council; on the other, he donated fascinating exhibits of great scientific value.
Unfortunately at that time there was still no systematic exhibition design. Focusing attention only on some rooms, others were left unaltered, creating a certain confusion among visitors who were faced with two very different museums in terms of the approach to exhibiting style and communication. There was an attempt, however, to implement a new project in 1977. This development was to have been financed by various private sponsors that Giancarlo had found to cover the two years’ work. The scientific project was to have been handled by the director Giordani Soika, the malacologist Paolo Cesari and Ligabue himself; the exhibition design was entrusted to the architect Piero Basaglia. This project was subsequently only partially implemented.
In 1978 the Mayor of Venice, Mario Rigo, appointed Ligabue as president of the Museum. This honorary title renewed Giancarlo’s great enthusiasm. Later, moves were also made to set up an International Scientific Committee, which he chaired. One of his objectives was to raise the Museum’s standards to those of major Italian and international institutions, also by staging large events.
In the 1980s Ligabue continued to be closely involved in the Museum but by then his main commitment was to his Study Centre and its many scientific expeditions. Over the years he had created a network of relations with the international scientific and academic community and had financed successful research projects and numerous publications.
Part of the material found on those expeditions was stored at the Museum pending cataloguing and study, and some items were exhibited.
One remarkably successful event was the exhibition entitled the Dinosaurs of the Gobi Desert, held from 29 February to 26 July 1992. The exhibition was inspired by the expeditions to Mongolia funded by the Study and Research Centre. Thanks to Giancarlo’s good offices, the Museum had the opportunity to display many complete skeletons, which were presented for the first time in the West. The exhibition attracted over 120,000 visitors, thus making 1992 a record year for visitors in the history of the Museum. This is particularly impressive considering that in the previous decade the average was around 20,000 per year.
In the 1980s and ‘90s individual exhibition projects were organised with material from his collection. There was now a ground-floor room of scientific museum studies; a room dedicated to fish fossils with finds from Chapada do Araripe, Brazil; and a highly original Ichnology room, which contained a remarkable collection of fossils footprints and tracks. The first catalogue of the Ligabue collection was edited by Bruno Berti and myself in 1993. The work on the catalogue made it possible to make an official agreement with the City Council concerning the donations and the permanent loan.
In 1997 the Museum exhibition rooms were closed to the public for restoration work on the building and the installation of new technical plants. The exhibits were completely dismantled and removed. The need to keep a high profile with the public and the city led to numerous initiatives, educational events, cataloguing and the restoration of the old material. It was at this time that the skeleton of the Ouranosaurus nigeriensis was restored and positioned in a less invasive modern metal structure. The new support inspired a highly successful exhibition, Ouranosaurus, at the Centro Culturale Candiani in Mestre. Organised in collaboration with the company Stoneage (responsible for the restoration) and the Ligabue Study and Research Centre, the exhibition was inaugurated on 20 December 2001 and remained open to the public until 14 April 2002.
After the restoration work and pending a new permanent exhibition design, two new spaces were opened to the public in 2003: the Tegnùe Aquarium on the first floor and a room called the “Ligabue Expedition” in the same place were the Niger fossils had been shown. The new room devoted to the dinosaur and the African expedition was designed with a striking stage setting, thus trying out new approaches to museum design and communications: the installation alluded to a desert dune, while a large panel at the entrance showed the shadow of the great reptile, reconstructed on a 1:1 scale; there was also a film telling the story of the expedition. In short, this was a wonderful homage to the great discovery and its protagonist. In 2005, it was in the Museum that Ligabue was honoured by the Mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari, who presented him with the Keys to the City.
The new exhibition design coincided with the onset of the long illness that afflicted Giancarlo. Despite his suffering, he enthusiastically supervised and took part in the various stages of the project and collaborated on the three new palaeontology rooms and a small room dedicated to the Study Centre. In the meantime, he loaned more valuable archaeological finds, which further enhanced the collections and the new showcases.
His last visit to the Museum was in March 2010. Although greatly debilitated, he wanted to see the new exhibits. I remember his great satisfaction during the visit and the energy that it gave him – almost a medicine for his condemned spirit. As happened in all his visits, he stood for a long time in front of the dinosaur. He lingered with some children, whom he always managed to entertain with amusing stories and anecdotes.
At the Natural History Museum we wish to remember him in this way: standing in front of “his dinosaur”, surrounded by young people eagerly listening to him, and his eyes like a child’s, never tired of learning, discovering and exploring.