Sabina Brevaglieri

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Germany)

Rethinking the origins of the Vatican Ethnological Museum

2022-2023: Fall

Sabina Brevaglieri is lecturer (wiss. Mitarbeiterin) at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. She is an Early modern historian (PhD University of Florence), with a significant background in art history (Sapienza Università di Roma). She has been a Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute and Marie Curie Fellow at the Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz, where she teaches courses in the history of knowledge. She was also awarded with further international fellowships in Münster, Wolfenbüttel, Paris, and Washington DC.

She is a specialist in early modern Rome as a site of knowledge production and a complex communicative space where many different agencies interplayed with Papal universalistic claims. She is the author of the 2019 book Natural desiderio di sapere: Roma barocca fra vecchi e nuovi mondi, Roma, Viella, La Corte dei Papi, 2019 (NdS). The book provides an innovative cultural biography of the so-called Mexican Treasury (Rome, 1651). It radically rethinks the writing of the well-known natural history of the new worlds and argues for Lincean Academy dynamics as thoroughly entangled with the vibrant Baroque Rome. Thus, NdS investigates interplays between nature and art, indigenous craftsmanship and artisanal industry, factional dynamics, confessional negotiations and competing searches for legitimation continuously redefining the shifting de-centrality of the Papal city. In addition, she edited the forthcoming Quaderni Storici special issue Missionary collecting (2022, 1). The issue addresses missionary engagement with indigenous artefacts and their preservation through time, tracing back to the early 16th century and spanning missionary museums between the 19th and 20th centuries. This work investigates the complex physical mobility and cultural transformations of artefacts and explores practices of attention, selection, accumulation, and monopolization, which encompass violence, domination, creative resistance, competing agencies, and asymmetric negotiations within the colonial spaces.

At the Italian Academy, she explores the 17th century origins of the Vatican Ethnological Museum. Her project investigates the complex entanglements of indigenous claims, missionary agencies, and Papal universalistic self-legitimation which shaped artefacts’ lives. Their entrapment in mobile collectives of actors, papers and objects will be explored, paying attention to experimental transactions, creative misunderstandings, and continuous frictions. The project engages with heritage performance and dynamics of sedimentation, as well as competing practices of patrimonializations. Against this background, a call for an interdisciplinary reflection on a tentatively defined artefact "right to endure" will be launched.