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Civic Museum - Carlo Vidua Exhibition

ritratto di carlo vidua

Carlo Vidua. A life of travel, from Monferrato to the Far East (1785-1830) is the title of the important new exhibition that, from the 15th of December 2018, has enriched even further the cultural patrimony of the Civic Museum. It is the extraordinary ethnographic collection of Carlo Vidua (Casale Monferrato 1785 – Ambon, Indonesia, 1830) that was preserved in the deposits of the Museum and has finally found the right place to be appreciated. Vidua, from 1818 until the day he died, travelled tirelessly through the five continents, buying, collecting and preserving every kind of material that interested him and could be testament of the places, the usages and populations just visited.The exhibition showcases objects, books, paintings and discoveries from Vidua's long travels that make for a unique collection in the Piemonte territory and are valued both nationally and internationally for rarity and variety of the items. The themes of “travel” and “discovery” actively involve the visitors throughout the exhibition tour, with the help of audioguides accessible via smartphone.


The exhibition is helped by funding from Regione Piemonte (L.R. 58/1978)  and funding from Fondazione Cassa Risparmio di Alessandria. Partners of the initiative: Biblioteca Civica/Archivio Storico di Casale Monferrato, Museo Egizio di Torino, MAO di Torino, Accademia delle Scienze di Torino, Cooperativa Solidarietà e Lavoro di Genova, Associazione Amici del Museo Civico di Casale Monferrato, Associazione Orizzonte Casale.


  • Carlo Vidua - Biography

    ritratto di carlo vidua

    CARLO VIDUA (1785-1830)

    Carlo Domenico Fabrizio Giuseppe Maria Vidua was born in Casale Monferrato on the 28th of February 1785 from the count of Conzano, Pio Gerolamo Vidua (1748-1836) and countess Marianna (Anna Maria) Gambera (1766-1789), married on the 14th of September 1782. From their union was born, after Carlo, Luisa (Luigia) (1786-1838). Before Carlo and Luisa, there were Paola (1782-1789) and two infants stillborn, Matilde (1787-1788) and Gaetano (1789).
    Carlo's sister, Luisa, born in Casale Monferrato on the 17th of September 1786, would be joined in matrimony to the count Carlo Emanuele Beccaria-Incisa of Santo Stefano (1752-1833). The couple did not have any children and, when Luisa died on the 10th of April 1838, hers and Carlo's estate will be inherited by the Leardi cousins.
    The countess Marianna died on the 28th of May 1789, who would be replaced in her motherly role by the grandmother Paola Gaspardone, wife of Fabrizio Gambera (1720-1807), a great traveller that would awaken in young Carlo's mind the love and wish to travel. Pio Vidua remarries with Enrichetta Galleani ofAgliano (1777-1849) without having children.
    Carlo grew up with tutors of great cultural level. His godfather, canon Ignazio De Giovanni (1729-1801) , will introduce him to the European culture of the time. The canon's library, now kept in the Seminary library in Casale, was and still is considered to be quite unique. From when he was 4 until he became 19 years old, Carlo was tutored by the young tutor father Giuseppe Mortara from Casale. He receives an excellent musical education, so much so that Cesare Balbo will describe him as a genious composer and his travels' companions, like the Dutch captain Jan Hendrik De Bondyck-Bastiaanse, will describe him as a very talented musician.
    The call to become a traveller comes to Carlo when he is seen, as a child, digging a hole in his garden to reach the other side of the Earth. During his younger years he is forced, however, to live a boring life: as the only male child, heir to the Count title, his father wanted him to marry, to guarantee a respectable successor to the Vidua house and lead a normal quiet life.

    text from Roberto Coaloa

  • Carlo Vidua's legacy

    uno degli oggetti conservato nei depositi Vidua

    Mostly safe from destruction, the remarkable patrimony of materials, documents and library collected by Vidua during his travels is now preserved by various Piemonte's institutions.
    When Carlo died, his direct heirs were first his father Pio (who died in 1836), then his sister Luisa (which died in 1838) who had appointed as universal heir the Count Luigi Leardi Angelieri of Terzo.

    In 1833, Pio Vidua donated to the Science Academy in Turinbooks, manuscripts, objects of natural history, ancient and modern weapons, artifacts and similar items gathered from the long travels of his son count Carlo”, other than the travel notebooks on Egypt (1820) and the measurements taken by Carlo Vidua in Abu Simbel. Luigi Leardi, in 1840, allocated for the Science Academy the “rest of the library and manuscripts compiled during the long travels of Count Carlo Vidua, his cousin”.

    Particolare del fondo Vidua conservato nella Biblioteca Civica di Casale Monferrato

    Today, in Casale Monferrato, thanks to the donation of Countess Clara Leardi (1854), cousin of the traveller and Luigi's mother, the objects collected by the traveller during his journeys all over the world are kept at the Civic Museum; at the Historic Archive there are the notebooks of his last travel in the East, the letters of endorsement, 35 original letters and even others never-before seen as copies. At the Civic Library there are more collections of Carlo: other than the extensive library of the traveller, there are the collection of french gravures and the brochures gathered between Napoleon's demise and the Restauration period.

    Il fondo Vidua conservato nella Biblioteca Civica di Casale Monferrato

    More material about Carlo Vidua is in Turin at the State Archive, where the manuscript for the printing of the first volume of letters published by Cesare Balbo is preserved, an important historic document as it is possible to observe the edits and censorships that the work was subjected to before publishing it in 1834; at the Civic Library, part of the Luigi Nomis of Cossilla fund, there are 6 never-before seen letters and, lastly, at the Royal Library there are some letters published by Cesare Balbo, addressed to Luigi Provana.
    In Rome, at the Pigorini Museum, there are many objects of Carlo Vidua's last journey to the East, while at the Vatican's Apostolic Library there are the original letters, without edits or censorship, addressed to Cesare Balbo.

    text by Roberto Coaloa

  • The exhibition - The first tour in Europe, Africa and Middle East

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    The first tour, organised by Carlo, begins on the 21st of April 1818 with the starting point in Turin towards Paris. After Paris, he goes to London and, accompanied by his friend Alessandro Doria of Ciriè (1788-1828), they undertake a journey in Northern Europe: Denmark and Sweden, reaching Lapland, in a curious itinerary until Jukkasjervi. From Finland he moves on to Russia, arriving in the capital St. Petersbourg on the 1st of October 1818. Vidua spent a few months at the court of Tzar Alexander I, guest of the Piemonte's ministry Alessandro Cotti, count of Brusasco, successor of Joseph de Maistre. Cotti leaves to the traveller a remarkable collection of texts on Russian history and welcomes him to the court of the Tzar, whom he meets in February 1819. Thanks to the Tzar, Vidua develops an interest in egittology. Between April and May, the count of Conzano and the marquise of Ciriè are in Moscow to celebrate the Orthodox Easter. In May 1819, the marquise, after a year travelling with Vidua, returns to Turin. Vidua, however, moves towards Caucaso and Crimea. From Odessa he takes a boat for Constantinople, where he arrives in September. In Smirne, in December, he buys a beautiful edition of Essays by Montaigne, which he will bring with him to Egypt (and is now kept, full of his notes, in the Civic Library of Casale Monferrato).

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    During this time he collects ancient scripts that will be edited for a book in Paris in 1826. Vidua arrives in Egypt at the end of 1819 and stays there for most of 1820. At the beginning of the 17th century there were very few europeans that, navigating upstream on the Nile, had surpassed Philae Island, and none of them had wandered further than Derr, at the time capital of Lower Nubia. Vidua took that journey and his trip of 1820 is a masterpiece. Similarly to the Navy official Frederick Norden, on a mission in Egypt for the king of Denmark Christian VI between 1737 and 1738, Vidua travelled the Nile on a boat. Different from Norden, however, who never left the ship and only observed with a telescope the Nubian monuments, Vidua actually visited the Abu Simbel temple, completing more through expeditions, challenging crocodiles and armed to the teeth to fight bandits. On the 26th of March 1820, Vidua begins sketching Abu Simbel, writing in his notebooks in the moonlight to avoid the heat. Most importantly, he visits the magnificent temple.

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    In autumn, Vidua travels on the back of a camel to the Holy Land, Syria and Lebanon. In 1821, after Cyprus and Rhodes, he lands in Athens in the middle of an independence war. In September and October he is stuck in quarantine in the Marsille port, to then spend the winter months in Montpellier and Provence, arriving in the Sardinia Reign in spring of 1822, cutting the big mustache “of the turkish costume”.

    text by Roberto Coaloa

  • The exhibition - Vidua and the Museo Egizio in Turin

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    Egypt: an unexpected journey

    On the 13th of December 1819 the young Carlo Vidua wrote to his stepmom, Enrichetta of Agliano, telling her about his imminent departure for Egypt. “Soon I will be standing before the piramids; this thought brings me joy; yesterday night I was drunk on happiness for this great opportunity because the pleasure of travelling is greater than all other pleasures especially in countries rich with ruins and grand memories”. With this sudden decision, Carlo inextricably adds his name to the historic tale of the birth of the Museo Egizio in Turin. His egyptian adventures and meetings are meticulously documented by numerous letters and a collection of notes and drawings from which constantly appears the never-ending desire to know, always “burning with will”, as his father once said.

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    Disembarking in Alexandria on December 28, after visiting the city, Vidua moves on, in a caravan, for Cairo where he will meet with the Viceking of Egypt Mohamed Alì Pascia and the compatriot Bernadino Drovetti, one of the most influential people in Egypt. In the following months, until August 10 of the following year, he was occupied visiting the egyptian territory and Nubia, travelling upstream on the Nile to reach Abu Simbel. From Cairo, after visiting the pyramids and the monuments of lower Egypt, on January 21 he continues his journey to discover Tebe while on February 20 he is in Assuan, as it is documented. During his journey he sends back to Italy, to his friend the marquise Domenico Balestrino, four boxes of small antiquities and curiosities. Among these, there are 6 small precious funerary statues, originally from the tomb of the pharaos Seti I in Tebe and 2 stelies in stones of christian time periods found in Nubia. After Carlo's death, his sister Luigia hosted in Casale Monferrato, at the palace in Via dell'Ospedale, a small museum with the objects found by her brother, which later passed on to the Leardi family and, later still, were left to the city of Casale.

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    Carlo Vidua: an excellent mediator

    Once the Napoleon troops were defeated by the Englishmen and the debacle of Abukir in 1801, the French gradually abandoned Egypt leaving only a diplomatic representation given to the piedmontese Bernardino Drovetti, first vice-consul and then consul of France in Alexandria. During his office, Drovetti was able to gather an impressive collection of artifacts, with the intention of selling it to the highest bidder. In this setting, Vidua, accompanied by many friends, such as Cesare and Prospero Balbo, Cesare di Saluzzo and Roberto D'Azeglio, tried to acquire the collection for Piemonte, in competition with France, another buyer. Regarding this affair, during his journey in Egypt, on the 15th of July 1820, he wrote to Cesare Balbo: “As this deal could contribute greatly to the honor of Piemonte, it is very dear to me, and it is the main reason why I extended my stay here”.

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    During his stay in Cairo, Vidua was a guest of Drovetti, who was removed of his position after the fall of Napoleon, and after talking much about the ”deal”, as he defined it, he got preferential treatment even if the collection was previously promised to the French. Even if he was not able to see the artifacts, already sent to Livorno, a notable port of the East routes, Vidua was able to write a first list of the pieces, sent to count Prospero Balbo so that the court could be notified. The negotiations for the purchase took a long time and while the persuasive work of Vidua and his friends was necessary, reached its conclusion on the 24th of February 1824. The Piemonte reign, for 400.000 lire, obtained the entire Drovetti Collection, made of 5304 antiquities and 3007 between medals and coins. In November of that same year, after a first setup in the Science Academy building, the Museo Egizio in Turin first opened its doors to the public, giving credit to the “unruly” of house Vidua, the irreducible Italian now part of History.

    text by Beppe Moiso, Museo Egizio in Turin

  • The exhibition - The second tour in America

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    The second tour organized by Carlo Vidua in North America and in Mexico is the result of much preparation. A few months before leaving for the States, Vidua gathers in Paris letters of recommendation to meet very influential men. Thanks to Alexander Von Humboldt, for example, Vidua obtains a letter to meet the former president Thomas Jefferson.

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    This trip to the United States begins on the 9th of April 1825 with his arrival in New York (after 43 days of navigation on the Atlantic) and ends in New Orleans on the 6th of February 1826. After this, he begins his travels in Mexico: Vidua boards L'Antoinette shipment, going downstream the Mississipi to Pueblo Viejo de Tampico, and on the 22nd of February 1827 he leaves from Vera Cruz to return to Europe.

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    On the 14th of June 1825, Vidua has a memorable meeting with the american presidents while visiting Thomas Jefferson in Monticello, talking with Madison, Monroe and Quincy Adams. In Monticello, John Adams was not present, but Vidua will meet him in September of the same year. While on this long trip to the States, with a period of research even in Canada, Vidua takes interests in the Quaker comunity, collecting information, magazines and books. “On the Mississipi”, the 17th of January 1826, he writes to count Luigi Maistre (1781-1852), his friend in Casale Monferrato, some observations on “this part of the United States called Western Country”, about the West of the United States, still unknown to Europeans and that Tocqueville, ten years after the reckless journey of Vidua, was still not able to see. Another reason why the journey of Vidua in the States is memorable: “Forty years ago it was a huge, wild forest; thirty years ago the first inhabitants had to fight the Indians, and where there are now cities and villages, you could not see anything other than woods and some savages. This was the brilliant stage of the industriousness of this incredibly active people. The american does not have the “maladie du pays”, the attachment to his hometown, the resentment to leave friends, family or his country. All these feelings are not familiar to him. At 20 years old, he marries and goes to the West to look for his fortune”.
    text by Roberto Coaloa

  • The exhibition - The third tour in the East

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    Coming to Europe from Mexico, Vidua decides to begin his last journey by reaching South America from Far East Asia.
    Arriving in India, in January 1828, he sails the Gange river until Benares. At the end of February he is in Delhi, where he is introduced to the Great Mogol. Vidua attends with curiosity the ancient ceremony and fills his notebooks with interesting observations and drawings. In the middle of April he is on the mountains of Himalaya. Until June he remains in India, where he buys many books, creating a big “trunk” (as the traveller mentions the enourmous crates that he sends to the Sardinia Reign) with: “Indian manuscripts in different languages, donnesch ornaments, costume's examples such as clothes of different kinds of people, and various objects."

    un particolare di un libretto cinese

    In the summer he travels to Singapore and later on to Manila, Macao. On the 28th of January 1829 he enters the bay south of Canton. In China he acquires an entire Biliothéque Chinoise, some paintings and weapons. In the summer he visits Java, where he spends six months and truly becomes an explorer and an anthropologist. On the 21st of March 1830 he boards Surabaya for the island of Madura and for Ambon, capital of Moluku, where he forges a friendship with the dutch governor Ellinghuysen, who opens his home to him. On the 22nd of June 1830, he leaves from Ambon with a dutch schooner, the Iris, and on July 1st he lands in New Guinea. The captain of the ship is Jan Hendrik De Bondyck-Bastiaanse, but Vidua himself steers the ship. In his travel notebooks we can find “Note des objets d'echange pour les Papous achetès à Amboine en partant pour la Nouvelle Guinée”. For seventy five florins, buying coral necklaces, Vidua bargains with the Papuan people a bow, many arrows, “some of which with the tip made of the beak or the bones of casuari, common bird of those lands” and a skull: “thinking that in Europe's museums the heads of the Papuan people are not so common.

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    On August 16, in the island of Celebes, now called Sulawesi, at the solfatara of Lahendon, Vidua has an accident: his right leg slips in boiling hot lava. The dutch people cure him, but on the 25th of December 1830 he dies on board of a ship that was bringing him back to the Ambon port, where they were considering amputating. Today, the place where the fatal accident happened carries his name: it is the caldera of the Tondano volcano in the island of Sulawesi, altitude mt. 1202, where a thermal area has the name Count Vidua Solfatara Field to keep eternal memory of this great traveller that became an intrepid explorer in his last adventure.

    text by Roberto Coaloa

  • Information, tickets and accessibility

    The Vidua exhibition is open to the public and included in the collections available with the same ticket of the Civic Museum and Gipsoteca Bistolfi.
    The room is not accessible to people with motor disabilities (wheelchair users).

  • Workshops and guided tours

    The room where the exhibition is located is not accessible to people with motor disabilities.
    To overcome this issue, there is a video available online about the exhibition, linked in the Multimedia section on this page.

    For groups and students of any grade there are tours and workshops available with the goal of teaching about the objects and documents coming from the five continents gathered by the collector. The tours are bookable on the days when the Museum is open (Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday).

  • Educational material

  • Videos and multimedia

  • Press releases (all in Italian)

Ultima Modifica: 04 Maggio 2022