Hautausnaamio Ligabue Cl 2885

The exhibition The World that Wasn’t There brings the ancient cultures of Central and South America to the National Museum of Finland


On display are almost 200 rare pre-Columbian artefacts from the collection of the Italian Giancarlo Ligabue Foundation, covering a period of 4,000 years, from 2500 BCE to 1500 CE. The exhibition is open from Oct 18 2019 to Mar 15 2020.

At the end of the 15th century Europe was shaken by a remarkable discovery: “India”, an entire new world, where Genoan-born explorer Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492. Columbus believed until his death that he had discovered a sea route to India and did not realise that he had encountered a new continent.

The discovery of a new continent revolutionized the European worldview in many ways. The concept of a “new world” is, however, a Eurocentric one, since civilizations had flourished on the American continents for thousands of years before their violent encounter with Europeans. People who had arrived from Northeast Asia across the Bering Strait had populated these continents already 15,000 years ago, or even earlier.

The first things brought to Europe from the new world included some gold items, fruit trees, and tobacco – as well as some members of the indigenous population, for the astonishment of the Europeans. Albrecht Dürer in Brussels was one of the first Europeans to see the gold items given to explorer Hernán Cortés by the Aztec ruler Montezuma. In 1520 Dürer wrote: “Some of the items show unique skill; I am amazed at the originality and imagination of these far-away people.”

The exhibition opens in the National Museum of Finland on 18 October and features almost 200 items, including Zapotec urns, Aztec sculptures, Maya ceramics, vessels and textiles from the Nazca region in Peru, as well as gold artefacts of the Andean Moche culture.

The Ligabue foundation, founded by the Italian paleontologist, scientist, and politician Giancarlo Ligabue (1931–2015) and led by his son Inti Ligabue, has accumulated a diverse archaeological collection of items form the Mesoamerican cultures. The collection, gatherer over five decades, is one of the most important pre-Columbian collections in Italy, and the exhibition in Helsinki offers the first opportunity to explore it outside of Italy.

“It is almost impossible to imagine what discovering that parallel reality over 500 years ago felt like. Today we hear daily about events taking place on the other side of the globe. Even so, we often fail to understand cultures that are unfamiliar to us. Without even being conscious of it, we interpret them through our own worldview. We hope that this exhibition will make people think about how they relate to realities other than their own”, says Elina Anttila, the director general of the National Museum of Finland.

The National Museum of Finland organizes the exhibition The World That Wasn’t There in co-operation with StArt s.r.l. and Fondazione Giancarlo Ligabue. The exhibition is curated by Dr. André Delpuech and Dr. Jacques Blazy.