closed Paper zoo

The show

Bologna, 28 January 2020 - If Diderot and D'Alembert's Encyclopédie is the work of scientific synthesis par excellence of the European Enlightenment, a great editorial fortune - perhaps unknown to most today - also had Georges' Histoire naturelle- Louis Leclerc count of Buffon. Published by the Imprimerie Royale, which was based in the Louvre palace in Paris, it had in a few years many editions, issues, counterfeits and translations throughout Europe, reaching Bologna with the series of quadruped animals, which appeared in episodes , on a weekly basis, between 1783 and 1787, testifying to the luck that this type of publication had in the years of the most widespread affirmation of the Enlightenment thought.

The exhibition "Paper Zoo" opens on Tuesday 28 January at 17.30 at the Art and History Library of San Giorgio in Poggiale (via Nazario Sauro 20/2). The diffusion of zoological images of Buffon's Histoire naturelle in eighteenth-century Italy "by Pierangelo Bellettini, director of San Giorgio in Poggiale, one of the headquarters of the Genus Bononiae circuit. Museums in the city.


The exhibition aims to reconstruct the extraordinary fortune that the engravings of quadruped animals of the editio princeps of the work of Georges-Louis Leclerc count of Buffon made in Paris between 1749 and 1767 had in Italy.

The prints on display are a selection of the 132 zoological illustrations (out of 200 in the complete Collection) recently acquired by the Library of San Giorgio in Poggiale, all printed in Bologna in the eighties of the eighteenth century by the chalcographer Antonio Cattani and Antonio Nerozzi; an editorial enterprise that is one of the most significant episodes in the history of Bolognese typography in the second half of the eighteenth century. 


The collection exhibited in San Giorgio in Poggiale is almost a collection of ante litteram figurines: Angora cats, hyenas, poodles, anteaters, now depicted on naturalistic backgrounds now in domestic settings. The Bolognese illustrations are distinguished by the rich descriptive apparatus of the individual figures: these are known animals - the horse, the donkey, the ox - but more often unusual, those that were exhibited for a fee at fairs, such as elephants, rhinos, hippos , camels, or even recently discovered animals in the distant territories of Siam, Guinea, Canada, Brazil. The exotic component has a remarkable importance in characterizing the environment in which the animal is depicted: pagodas with bulb domes and mosques with minarets surmounted by the Islamic crescent often appear to define the fauna of countries far from the European continent. Sometimes exoticism takes on archaeological connotations, with ruins that allude to a distant and mysterious past; so the animals have in the background ancient ruins, togate statues of ancient Romans, pyramids and sphinxes. The recovery of the ancient and the charm of the ruins are an increasingly characteristic feature of the eighteenth-century sensiblerie and, present even in the original drawings by Jacques de Sève (from which the Bolognese prints descend), will be perpetuated in the images of the various editions of the Buffon's work, representing one of the non-marginal factors of success.


The exhibition also highlights the important role that Bologna had as a center for the diffusion of the new Enlightenment thought and for the production of the illustrated scientific book, immediately after the great cultural and editorial capitals of the Italian eighteenth century: Milan, Naples, Rome and Venice.

Works on display

Timetable and tickets


Via Nazario Sauro, 20/2
20401 Bologna


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