Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.07.61

Giulio Paolucci, Documenti e memorie sulle antichità e il museo di Chiusi.   Pisa:  Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali, 2005.  Pp. 227.  ISBN 88-8147-380-1.  €360.00 (hb).  ISBN 88-8147-379-8.  €240.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Harri Kiiskinen, University of Turku (
Word count: 2054 words

In this book, Giulio Paolucci [hereafter P.] publishes documents related to the local archaeology and the birth and development of the communal archaeological collection and museum of Chiusi from 1860 to 1901. He divides the documents into nine chapters reflecting three different phases in the story of communal archaeological administration.

The main chapters of the book are: Premessa; 1. La formazione della collezione comunale e l'inaugurazione del Museo; 2. L'acquisizione della collezione Vescovile; 3. Le adunanze della Commissione Archeologica: i verbali (1872-1876); 4. Le adunanze pubbliche della Commissione Archeologica (1872-1876); 5. La riapertura della tomba della Scimmia e i restauri delle tombe di Vigna Grande e della Paccianese; 6. Gli scavi della Commissione Archeologica di Chiusi nel 1873; 7. L'acquisto della collezione Paolozzi nel 1874; 8. Verbali delle adunanze della Commissione Archeologica (1881-1894); 9. Il nuovo museo di Chiusi.

All the chapters (except the two page Premessa) are actually groups of documents relating to a common theme in the story of the Commissione Archeologica. P. has prefaced each chapter with an essay, where he contextualizes the documents. As these introductions are highly detailed in their descriptions of certain items, whether acquired through donations, bought, or excavated at sites, I will limit myself to describing the general subject of each chapter and the types of documents published in it.

In the short Premessa, P. gives a short overview of the story he is about to tell, and considers the state and availability of the sources for the study. Also, he presents his own motivation for working with the material over the many years it has taken him to produce the book.

In the first chapter, P. tells how and when the Commissione Archeologica of Chiusi came into existence. He sets the birth of the commission in the context of the unification of Italy, as the commission was formed after the Grand Duchy of Tuscany was abolished by the referendum of 11th and 12th March 1860. However, the commission became active only towards the end of the 60's with the introduction of new members. The documents of this chapter are a mixed collection of communal deliberations, letters, the list of the items sold to the commune by Pietro Casuccini and the minutes of a meeting of the commission regarding the first archaeological museum of Chiusi and some notes regarding the same museum, which was instituted in 1871. The collection of documents lacks consistency, and why just these documents have been published, but not others that appear in the footnotes, is a question which P. does not address at any point.

The second chapter concerns the development of the so-called Bishop's collection in Chiusi, and how it came to be a part of the civic collection. The documents published are letters describing the collection from the middle of the 19th c., and documents relating to the donation of the collection to the city. The documents mention a large number of single items which P. has diligently identified in the collections of the museum and in the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum.

Chapters Three to Seven all relate to the years 1872 to 1876. These were years of fervent activity, and also a period from which the sources concerning the commission have survived well. In 1876, the activities of the commission ceased suddenly because of the suspension of its funding by the city council due to strong disagreements between the commission and the city.

In the third chapter, P. describes the general activities of the archaeological commission, which mostly consist of acquisitions, minor excavations, publications and nominations of new members. A recurrent feature is the lack of funds, which limited the commission's potential for action; the period was harsh for the communal economy. The published documents in this chapter consist of (all?) the proceedings of the commission from the period. They offer an interesting view of the world of upper class gentlemen in an Italian town. P.'s interest is mostly in the activities of the commission, and since this discussion is in the introductory part, the documents are left with little notice.

In chapter four, P. presents the texts of the public reports of the commission by its two prominent members, the secretary P. Nardi Dei and the conservator P. Brogi. These were given at yearly presentations organized by the commission to keep the public aware of its activities. Nardi Dei in his reports explained what the commission had been doing during the year and presented interesting new acquisitions in the civic collection. Brogi then gave a more scientific presentation, where he aimed to analyze and interpret the objects and monuments. The complete texts of these reports are published in the chapter, and they offer yet again an interesting view on the concepts of past and its study by these gentlemen. The footnotes by P. are often long and analyze in detail some of the items presented in the relations.

The fifth chapter is about the excavation and restoration of some of the numerous Etruscan tombs in the territory of Chiusi, namely Tomba della Scimmia, Tomba della Vigna Grande and Tomba della Paccianese. The documents are mostly letters between different agents representing the Ministro della Pubblica Istruzione, R. Deputazione per i Monumenti d'Etruria, the town of Chiusi and the archaeological commission. P. limits his analysis of the restorations to the essay, and the whole chapter is only six pages.

In the sixth chapter, P. presents the excavations performed by the archaeological commission in 1873. The documents are mostly reports of the progress of excavation to the R. Deputazione per i Monumenti d'Etruria, with a complete report of the excavations as the last document. Yet again, P. limits his analysis to the essay at the beginning of the chapter and, even here, is content only to describe the progress of the excavations.

The seventh chapter deals with the development and acquisition of the so-called Paolozzi collection, the second-largest private local collection after the Casuccini collection, which was lost to the museum of Palermo in the first years of the commission. The documents are mostly inventories of the collection and other documents relating to the acquisition of the collection. P. concentrates on describing the development of the collection and identifying the inscriptions and items in the collection.

The eighth chapter covers the activities from the year 1881, when the archaeological commission was brought back to life by the initiative of the city mayor, to 1894, when the city council made the final decision to construct a new museum. Here again, as in chapter three, the documents are mostly diaries of the meetings of the archaeological commission. In this chapter, P.'s introduction concentrates mostly on the practices of collection and conservation. Notably, in this period ethical questions seem to come forward, and the commission had to adopt new standards regarding the origin of the items acquired in the face of external critique. The policies of conservation and use of the monuments and the acquisition of items were written down. The policy of the museum regarding items acquired was once again confirmed as emphasizing inscriptions. All in all, these years seem to have been very active for the commission, and the last years of the period saw an increasing importance of the project for a new archaeological musem.

In the last chapter, P. studies the actual construction process of the museum and follows the debates and controversies related to the construction; also here, the documents are the diaries of the commission. P. analyses in detail the new museum. The order of rooms, the items placed in each room, and the processes behind these decisions are described in detail, especially concerning the disputes between the commission and the director of the Museo Archeologico di Firenze L. A. Milani, who became involved in the process by decision of the city.

Finally, in the appendix there are the complete inventories of the museum for the years 1875 and 1883. Some items of the first inventory, which is more descriptive and less list-like, P. also has identified in other sources.

The book functions on three different levels. At first, it is a publication of documents relating to the activities of the archaeological commission of Chiusi; on the second level, it is a history of the antiquities administration and the museum of Chiusi; on the third level, it is a study of the provenance of certain items. In my opinion, it does not work well on any of these levels.

One major problem of the book is that P. never explains why only these documents were included in the book and why those cited in the footnotes were left out. If the book contained only documents produced by the commission itself, the selection would be self-evident; nevertheless, P. occasionally includes documents from other collections on grounds which are not apparent to the reader. The reader is also left to wonder whether these are all the surviving documents from the Commissione archeologica or just a selection of them; the other documents are presented with even less information about their contemporary contexts, for example the letters reporting the excavations of the archaeological commission to the R. Deputazione: are there more letters from the commission in the archives? Has P. collected all material relating to the activities of this commission from this archive, or just selected examples?

One would be tempted to think that the selection criteria were the development of the local antiquities administration and the museum. In this case, however, the reader would also expect some discussion concerning the inclusion of certain documents and the exclusion of others, especially since the documents published in the book usually are not present in the texts of the chapters. P. often constructs the "story" on external sources while leaving the documents published in the chapters out of the discussion. That they are used in the story, the reader can see when reading the text and the documents, but one would wish that the documents were also cited in the text; instead the work that should be the author's is left to the reader.

Since the book is organized roughly temporally and partially thematically, the reader expects to find a structure in it. The structure of the book, however, is present only on the level of the table of the contents. The chapters do not build on each other, they do not argue anything and if P. is trying to make a point, it is well hidden. The chapters tell of individual actors, actions, items, monuments and excavations, at various times and various places. The only real structure in the book can be found within the series of proceedings of the archaeological commission where the story evolves slowly and laconically as it usually does in documents. Perhaps this is because the documents are not included in the prefatory essays? Or then it might be because all the actors are just names, be they persons or institutions: they have no context, they do not originate anywhere, they have no positions, no motives.

As a historical study, this work is problematic. But then, looking at the book with the glasses of an archaeologist, it appears as a valuable source of information. P. has done an immense amount of work in tracking down the objects mentioned in the sources published here, wherever they currently are. The amount of information on the archaeology and earlier excavations of the territory of Chiusi is large and detailed, but requires a good map of the area--something which the book does not provide in spite of its hefty price.

All in all, the value of P.'s book depends very much on the reader. For an archaeologist studying the territory of Chiusi this book is a good source of information. For an archaeologist or art historian interested in items found in the region at the time the book might provide interesting information about some particular items. For anyone professionally interested in the culture of the past in Italy in the late 19th c. this book contains a load of interesting documents and good directions for lots of more. And for someone interested in the local history of Chiusi during the same period, the book might provide some nice material on the local notables. It is only the general reader who may find this result of a life-long commitment to the archaeology of Chiusi indigestible.

Read Latest
Index for 2006
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:31:10, Friday, 03 April 2009