‘The other Renaissance’: Ulisse Aldrovandi, the wonders of the world and the reawakening of natural sciences

Having exceeded 20,000 visitors, the exhibition “The other Renaissance. Ulisse Aldrovandi and the wonders of the world”, inaugurated on 8 December 2022 at the Palazzo Poggi Museum in Bologna, Italy has extended the opening to the public until Sunday 28 May 2023.

The attendance target reached by the exhibition, organized on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the birth of Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605) by the University Museum System of the Alma Mater Studiorum – University of Bologna, in collaboration with the University Library of Bologna, with the contribution of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers – Mission structure for the enhancement of national anniversaries and the participatory dimension of the new generations, and with the patronage of the Municipality of Bologna and the National Research Council – CNR, Institute of Mediterranean Europe History – ISEM, is made even more remarkable by the fact that the participation of schools and young people was numerous, thanks to the rich offer of guided tours and educational workshops and the general public, recently expanded with new activities.

“The appreciation of the exhibition has exceeded our expectations – declares the president of the University Museum System – SMA, Roberto Balzani -, also because communicating the history of science is not so easy. Visitors usually flock to art exhibitions in large numbers: the fact that this happens today for Aldrovandi, his objects, and his books makes us reflect on how to set up and organize collections in the future, to keep this dialogue alive with a broad and diverse”.

The exhibition takes the visitor on a journey to discover an episode of the Renaissance as important as it is little known because it is overshadowed by the masterpieces of art and architecture that the whole world recognizes: the reawakening of the natural sciences.

If artists had tried to imitate and surpass the masterpieces of classicism, philosophers their ideas, and humanists literature, in the last decades of the sixteenth century Ulisse Aldrovandi and a small group of Italian naturalists, doctors and pharmacists decided to retrace the footsteps of Aristotle and Pliny, transforming himself from humanists into scientists. We owe them three unexpected inheritances. For the first time, they went out to study animals and plants in nature, rather than just in books, taking their first steps towards science as we know it today. They began to collect collections that will become natural history museums. They had the first true images of nature made, creating an imagery of nature that is still the our.

Traces of the extraordinary story of this handful of proto-scientists could have been lost if the University of Bologna had not preserved in its collections and library an exceptional heritage of objects, images, books and manuscripts, linked both to the legacy made from Aldrovandi to the city, both to the collections of the Institute of Sciences created later by Luigi Ferdinando Marsili.

“The other Renaissance” offers the visitor many of the “jewels” kept by the Alma Mater, mostly never exhibited before, including some of the oldest maps of the known world, the volumes with the illustrated tables painted by Aldrovandi, and of course the naturalistic collection of the great Bolognese scientist, the only one that has come down to us in its almost entirety, as well as the largest, most important and most famous of its time. Together with them, there are objects and works of art, together with immersive video projections and digital installations.

Created by an idea of Roberto Balzani, professor of the Alma Mater and President of the University Museum System, the exhibition is curated by Giovanni Carrada, an expert in the communication of science and cultural heritage, with the scientific advice of professors Giuseppe Olmi and Davide Domenici of the University of Bologna.

“The other Renaissance” is part of a broader program of celebrations for the five hundredth anniversary of the birth of Aldovrandi promoted by the University Museum System and the University Library of Bologna.



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