Italian Missionary’s C17th Pen-and-Ink Sketches Now in Tbilisi

Pen-and-ink narrates the history of the world. No less so in Georgia. And now twenty-two years of 17th century Georgia, as viewed by an Italian Missionary, are now available for the public to enjoy in Tbilisi.

Georgian Art Palace (Museum of Theatre, Music, Cinema and Choreography), Director, George Kalandia, this week announced that the National Library of Ireland has given the Palace copies of the pen-and-ink sketches painted by Italian missionary Teramo Christopher de Castelli in the 17th century, during his travels around Georgia.

“This unique collection of Castelli’s work encompasses paintings that have not yet been published. My aunt Medea Kalandia funded the creation of copies of the album,” Kalandia said.

Teramo Cristoforo de Castelli was an Italian missionary from Genoa’s noble family. He arrived in the Caucasus in 1632 with a group of missionaries and spent twenty-two years in Georgia. During his journey he kept a detailed sketchbook of his travel experiences in Catholic missions in Georgia’s western region of Samegrelo, then an independent kingdom.

He left seven volumes of travel notes and pen-and-ink sketches and other illustrations, mainly of the people and landscapes of Georgia.

The seven albums, which include thousands of illuminated papers and handwritten reports, had been forgotten until the priest Gioacchino di Marzo found them in 1878 in the Libreria Comunale of Palermo, referred to formerly as the House of Theatins, and saved them.

The Georgian public learnt about the albums only at the beginning of the 20th century when Georgian catholic Mikhail Tamarati found the albums in Palermo, photographed half of them and sent them to Georgia in 1910, where they were placed in keeping at the National Center of Manuscripts.

The albums revealed not only the faces of Georgian kings which were previously unknown, but also the costumes of the time as well as much information in various fields like art, history, geography, ethnography and local life.

When Georgia became part of the Soviet Union, the authorities prevented scientists of the time from going to Western Europe to study the albums. Consequently, they based their research on the photos but not the original albums and the studies at the time did not hold accurate information about the albums.

Several Georgian and Italian scholars studied the albums from 1970 to 1990 and published a section of the albums, however, the studies were not without inaccuracies.

These precious art works of the Italian missionary Teramo Cristoforo de Castelli are currently on display in Tbilisi at the Georgian State Museum of Theatre, Cinema, Music and Choreography. Don’t miss your chance to see them!

Tamar Svanidze

20 August 2015 20:00