The exhibition comprises twenty- one original works in collage and pastel that Emanuele Luzzati has produced for a new edition of Il Milione – based on the fourteenth-century Tuscan version of the text – to be published by Nuages. Alongside this fascinating new visual interpretation of Marco Polo’s accounts of his travels, the show includes various rare and precious objects from the Museum collections; these that are either linked with Il Milione itself or else illustrate the theme of travel and the crucial relation which existed between Venice and the East. On the one hand, therefore, there is all the optimism, skill and talent of a great master as stimulated by one of the most fascinating stories even told; on the other, a journey back through time, following the clues and evidence provided by illuminated fifteenth-century codices, Ptolemaic atlases, manuscript maps, various objects from the Near and Far East, and various editions of Il Milone itself.
Room 6. The exhibition opens with the famous wooden statue that is traditionally believed to be a portrait of Marco Polo himself. This is in fact a nineteenth-century copy of the Chinese statue of the Venetian which is venerated in the Temple of 500 Deities in Canton, and was commissioned by the Mayor of Venice on the occasion of the 1881 Geographical Exhibition. In the display cases alongside are scientific reviews and medallions which reveal the renewed interest in Marco Polo at the time – both as a ‘scientist’ and as a historical figure who had been one of the ‘boasts’ of Venice and hence of the nascent nation of Italy. On the wall between the windows is the Qibla Map, an eighteenth-century work showing the route to Mecca – revealing how Marco Polo’s journey did not only span space and time but also different religions and cultures.
Room 7. Those in the showcases to the right depict The Departure from Venice and The Great Khan entrusting Niccolò and Marco Polo with a Delicate Mission (to accompany Queen Cacesi and the daughter of the king of the Mangi safely to their destination). On the left are The Magi and The Joyful Welcome at the Court of the Great Khan. The same showcases contain rare prints, most of which date from the sixteenth or seventeenth century; they document interest in travel or in matters geographical and cosmological. On the walls are rare geographical works. On the right is a manuscript map by Francesco Griselini; the model for the large canvas celebrating the great Venetian traveller that now hangs in the Sala dello Scudo in the Doge’s palace, this shows the route followed by the Polo family eastwards. Alongside is a sixteenth-century engraving of Asia by Ortelius. To the left is a 1647 portrayal of the world by Giuseppe Rosaccio.
Room 8. In this room the exhibition occupies the central showcases and part of the monumental bookcases. The former contain five other illustrations by Luzzati: clockwise, The False Paradise; The Desert; Embarkation for the Island of Java; two Scenes of the Great Khan’s Banquet.Between them are various rich editions of Il Milione, published over a period from 1508 to 1937; the variety of languages – Venetian, Italian, English, French, Russian and Czech – reveals the long-lasting fame enjoyed by the work throughout Europe. The display is completed by various objects that evoke the atmosphere of the time – from the pulleys used on the ships of the day to engraved Chinese cutlery.
The bookcase on the wall to the right contains a selection of refined ceramic and porcelain work from the Far East. The end wall comprises four large display cases . In the first is an early Portuguese edition of Il Milione (1502) and a fifteenth-century codex with a summary of the voyages of Marco Polo. One particular intriguing object is the perpetual almanac used by the merchants of the day; this is a small roll of parchment with information on the distance between the major cities. In the second case are various objects of Middle-Eastern provenance, plus the instruments used in order to obtain a correct reading from maps; there is also the valuable geographical map of the Indian Ocean drawn up by Battista Agnese – a water-coloured parchment that dates from 1553. The third showcase contains another of Luzzati’s illustrations (Departure for a New Destination), together with travel objects, small coffers and a very valuable fourteenth-century parchment bearing the Mariegola – the Guild Regulations – for the guild of the varoteri (tanners).
In the fourth case, Luzzati’s illustration of The Great Khan in Battle is shown alongside Grevembroch’s famous eighteenth-century depiction of A Tartar and a selection of Middle-Eastern weapons. On the wall to the right, the last showcase contains a series of precious objects in metal (bronze, brass), most of which are from Syria. Some are very ancient, including a small bucket in damask-work brass dating from the thirteenth century.
Rooms 9 – 11. The central showcases in Room 9 contain an extraordinary series of nautical maps and portolans, mostly from the sixteenth century. These precious works of ink or watercolour on parchment come from the large cartography collection in the museum; they have been selected because they illustrate the routes taken by Marco Polo. Along with this material are numerous of the Luzzati illustrations. From the right, anti-clockwise, there is a Map of the Mediterranean, Luzzati’s illustration of the fabulously warm climate of the Indian province of Maabar, and then a Map of the Aegean Sea. In the second showcase is a large nautical chart of the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, Africa and the Americas produced by Giorgio Sideri in 1550. The next case contains another sixteenth-century parchment – showing the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov – plus two of Luzzati’s illustrations depicting scenes with the Hunting of Exotic Animals. In the fourth case are two seventeenth-century maps with the islands of the Canaries and Madeira, as well as Luzzati’s illustration of The City of Quinsai surrounded by Water. The small room beyond contains a miniature theatre by Luzzati and, in the corner display-case, three large ceramic works: two are from the East (Japan and Persia), one – the barber’s bowl – is a Venetian imitation of oriental work. At floor level are two other Venetian objects inspired by the East: a shell-form bowl and an eighteenth-century elephant in wood (this was, in fact, the sign for a pharmacist’s shop). In the following room comes a large travelling coffer, in which one can glimpse a sixteenth-century bowl of Middle-Eastern manufacture in chased bronze.
Rooms 12 – 14. The first showcase contains two particularly famous sixteenth-century works: a Universal Geography by Claudius Ptolemy and a Depiction of the World by Ortelius. The two maps showing the journey from Venice to the Holy Sepulchre date from later. Alongside are two Luzzati illustrations: one showing The Dog-Headed Men of the Island of Angaman and the other The Journey to Amien, on the Borders of India. In the next are two seventeenth-century maps – an Isolarium by Coronelli and a Map of Asia by Jean Bleau – plus Luzzati’s illustration of the Cold Lands of King Conci. Having passed beyond Room 13, in which the permanent collection illustrates the relation between Venice and the Sea, one comes to the last room of the exhibition, Room 14. Amidst the views and depictions of Venice that normally hang here, one can see the last two of the Luzzati’s illustrations in the show: one depicting A Sea Voyage, the other The Joyful Return to Venice. Alongside are an eighteenth-century Atlas and other local objects. The painting on the wall to the right is a mid-nineteenth-century depiction of Marco Polo’s return home. Thus the exhibition opens and closes with evidence of the renascent interest in this legendary figure within Risorgimento Italy.