‘The Dustbin of history’ - The Bellucci collection, Perugia

We mostly live in a monotheistic world today, quite different from ancient times. Go to an archaeology museum like the national museum in the ex-convent of San Domenico in Perugia and the prehistoric, Etruscan and Roman shrines and amulets depict a multitude of cults and dieties. There are shrines or their remnants from Neolithic to later Roman farmers, but the real treat is from the world of our immediate ancestors – from the beginnings of Italy as a nation. This is the Bellucci collection, housed in several rooms on the first floor of this old cloister.

Giuseppe Bellucci

Giuseppe Bellucci (1844-1921) was professor of chemistry in the University of Perugia and an avid palaeo-ethnologist. Over fifty years he collected more than 3,000 amulets, many on display in the dark halls of this exhibit. Bellucci’s intention was to create a sort of dustbin of history that documented objects associated with religious beliefs and practices. Not content with this, he published numerous books dedicated to themes derived from his amulets.

View of the National Museum at San Domenico, Perugia

Dozens of amulets were devoted to protection against atmospheric problems: especially lightening and hail. Others were conceived as protection at fundamental phases in everyday life: choosing a spouse, betrothal, marriage, conception, pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, and early childhood. Then, there are amulets to ward off the evil eye and some associated with religious practice. Perhaps the most significant are those intended to bring good luck to soldiers in the First World War trenches.

Amulets

Magic, daily life, animal protection and war are all covered by extraordinary variants of protective amulets. It is an astonishing window on a late 19th-century world in thrall to great industrialized changes and the awareness of a world stretching well beyond the local. Bizarre and utterly base in some cases, mixing objects with memory to those symbolic of the present, this collection is an eye-opener far more astonishing than any gallery of prehistoric or ancient tributes to the sacred. Once seen, you realize how little we know about the ancient past, and indeed how superficial monotheism is in practice.

19th c amulets to ward off lightening, using prehistoric axes

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