In this anniversary year, the exhibition brings together the surprising images created by Luzzati and a number of precious artefacts from the Museum collections (many of them not normally on display). These are either directly linked with ‘Il Milione’ or else illustrate the theme of travel and the crucial relationship which existed between Venice and the Orient. All the exhibits have been selected for the occasion by Camillo Tonini. On the one hand, therefore, there is the talent, optimism and sheer joie de vivre of the great Venetian, whose story is one of the most fascinating ever told; on the other, a journey back through time, with the help of fifteenth-century illuminated codices, Ptolemaic atlases, manuscript maps, objects from the Near and Far East, and various antique editions of ‘Il Milione’ itself. In the illustrations created by Luzzati, joy and amazement are uppermost. And that same sense of wonder and imagination can also be found in the antique materials inspired by the same themes. In Luzzati’s ‘Il Milione’ there is none of the austerity of the palaces of power; little of the fear and tragedy associated with difficult situations. What one finds is optimism and light-heartedness; and in the illustrations that deal with the long crossings of sea and desert, there is simply a certain stark emptiness, used to render the idea of the time required for these interminable journeys. Including the great Map of Asia by Abraham Ortelius and Giuseppe Rosaccio, the cartographical material from the Museum’s collection is extremely rare in itself and serves to illustrate the geographical knowledge of the day and contemporary perceptions of the Far East. Furthermore, the importance attributed to Marco Polo’s own journey can be seen in Francesco Griselini’s manuscript map, which served as a model for the large painting celebrating the Venetian which now hangs in the Sala dello Scudo of the Doge’s Palace and charts the entire route eastwards taken the Polo family of travellers. Luzzati himself comments, “Even nowadays I would love to undertake a journey like Marco Polo’s, but it is too late. I have always admired his ability to tackle incredible things and come through them unharmed. Marco Polo was clearly a blithe spirit; even in prison, he was dictating the account of his adventures to Rustichello, with an unfailing lightness of touch. And I always feel close to him when, just a few steps from my home in Genoa, I pass near the Doge’s Palace, where he was held a prisoner; where one can still feel him as a tangible presence. For Marco Polo, even the most terrifying things became the subject of fable; his adventures are recounted without drama, without fear. And another thing that has always fascinated me is how he was able to communicate in all those different languages… What an extraordinary traveller he was”.
Curated by Cristina Taverna, the show comprises 40 original works in pastels and collages which Luzzati produced for a new edition of the 14th century Tuscan version of ‘Il Milione’, to be published by Nuages on occasion of the exhibition. This material is accompanied by antique editions of the text, and by maps, ivories, ceramics and other objects from the Museo Correr collections – including the famous wooden statue which is said to depict Marco Polo himself. All in all, a fascinating show, laid out within the rooms dedicated to Venetian Civilization.