The legacy of Manucci at Palazzo Vendramin Grimani

11 April 2023
On the occasion of the exhibition Nicolò Manucci, the Marco Polo of India. A Venetian at the Moghul Court in the 17th century, Fondazione dell'Albero d'Oro in collaboration with the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice, the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin is exhibiting for the first time at Palazzo Vendramin Grimani the precious testimonies of the traveller's life.

The corpus of Nicolò Manucci's legacy, consisting of the Red Book and the Black Book, the two manuscripts that make up the original version of the Storia del Mogol and their subsequent transcriptions, will be exhibited in the rooms on the first noble floor of Palazzo Vendramin Grimani and will be available for consultation thanks to digital supports.

Visitors will not only be able to learn about the most important aspects of this extraordinary human and literary story along the exhibition route, but will also be able to take a close look at all the papers that make up the great cultural legacy handed down by a man who was neither a scholar nor a man of letters, but who was nevertheless endowed with such intelligence, curiosity and tenacity that he did not lose heart in the face of the gigantic task he had set himself. Manucci set out to write the history of the immense Mughal empire, recounting it in its various political, military, religious, social and cultural aspects. Reserving within it, scattered between the pages, are many moments and episodes from his autobiography.

The manuscripts and transcriptions of Mogol's History

The different parts that make up the Storia del Mogol are for the first time brought together in the same place since the work was conceived, strongly desired and completed by Nicolò Manucci.

It took Nicolò Manucci some fifteen years to complete his undertaking, years marked by not a few difficulties and disappointments not only in his private life but above all due to a fate that was adverse from the start that did not allow him to see his project realised and his wish fulfilled: the publication of the Storia del Mogol and the consequent fame and glory that would come with it for its author.
The first manuscripts sent from India at the beginning of the 18th century were in fact seized by the Jesuit François Catrou, who used that fantastic harvest of unpublished information to write his own history of the Empire. Those sent later seemed to have found their way to the printing presses, and what is more, precisely in his never-forgotten Venice, but the excessive cost of publication, which the Venetian publishing industry, no longer as flourishing as it once was, was unable to sustain, prevented the success of the affair.
The high cost was not so much that necessary for the publication of the albeit endless text of the History, but that for the copperplate engraving and printing of the one hundred and thirty miniatures in the Red Book and the Black Book that accompany it.

The intricate events surrounding the Storia del Mogol and its non-publication, involving scribes and officials of the Compagnie des Indes, Jesuit and Capuchin missionaries, Venetian diplomats and statesmen, Portuguese translators and numerous other personalities of various nationalities, are probably unique in the history of European literature, and this precious uniqueness will finally be enjoyed, and for the first time, by visitors to Fondazione dell'Albero d'Oro's exhibition.

Fondazione dell'Albero d'Oro has contributed to the preservation of the original manuscript and the version translated into Italian by Cardeira through digitisation of the works, which are now preserved at the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice.

The Red Book

The miniatures of the Red Book, sent to Europe in 1701 through the hands of the French official André Boureau-Deslandes together with the three volumes of the Portuguese translation of the work, now kept at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (the three volumes of the Portuguese translation are kept at the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin), show the main characters of the Mughal history and court, emperors, princes and dignitaries.

The Black Book

The miniatures of the Black Book, sent to Europe in 1705 together with books I-IV of the Storia del Mogol currently kept in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice, illustrate in a very effective, almost didactic way, the different moments of the civil, social and religious life of the Hindus, so profoundly different from the Islam of the Mughals.

In order to allow visitors to admire the miniatures that make up the Black Book and the Red Book, Fondazione dell'Albero d'Oro is providing tablets that will allow them to browse through the illustrated works, guaranteeing their usability and preservation.