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Florence Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology

One of the cases displaying Cook voyage exhibits A Tahitian mourner’s costume in one of the cases


The Florence Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology1 was officially opened, by a ministerial order, on 28 November, 1869.  In the 1920s the museum moved to its current location, where it celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2019. 


It is one of the oldest museums of Florence, and the glass cases have remained very much as they always were.  Until the opening of this museum in Italy, anthropology was not considered to be some­thing that deserved study.  Indeed, it was the world’s first museum of anthropology.  It has many fine Captain Cook exhibits, which I am pleased to say caused much interest during the year when there were a lot of visitors.  


At the time of Captain Cook’s voyages, the Grand Duke Peter Leopold of Lorraine was the ruler of Tuscany.  Very interested in all scientific matters, he enlarged the palace where he lived (Pitti Palace), and founded the first museum of Physics and Natural Science; it is still there—another “real” museum.

Another case displaying Cook voyage exhibits More of the same case


Leopold commissioned Felice Fontana and Giovanni Fabbroni to go to France and England, to buy scientific instruments and natural history specimens.  They arrived in London in 1778, where they purchased ethnographic artefacts from Captain Cook’s Second Voyage.  Later, they also bought some from his Third Voyage.  


The resulting collection of 30 items is now held in a small room of the museum, called Collections of Arctic America.


Also in this room is a very poor (in my opinion) portrait of Captain Cook by Cataldo Valente, 2015.  It is based on the Cook portrait hanging in the Queen’s House Art Gallery, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.  This portrait was painted in 1776 by Sir Nathaniel Dance just before Cook set out on his last voyage.


There is another small collection, in what is called the Sala dell’Oceania, of artefacts from Polynesia, including Hawai`i, also from the Third Voyage.


Judith Bowker


  1. https://www.msn.unifi.it/vp-350-anthropology-and-ethnology.html

    Originally published in Cook's Log, page 14, volume 43, number 2 (2020).

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