Travel Notes 1 (*)
In 1896, the writer and lexicographer Frédéric Mistral promoted, under his patronage, the creation of a commission to provide Arles with a regional museum of Ethnography. Arles is one of the cities of the Rhône, one of the largest rivers in Europe and a key element in the organization of the territories in its basin. The Rhone, in addition to having been a hub for the movement of people and goods since the beginning of human occupation of the area, was used more than once as a political border: remember that Arles is very close to Avignon, that with Le Contat were property of the Papal States until the territorial reorganization that occurred during the Revolution.
Mistral was born 40 years later: in 1830 and in Maillane, in the Mouth of the Rhône in French Provence. The son of a wealthy rural family, he would study law in Aix-en-Provence while committing himself to the rebirth of the language of Oc, or Occitan, a language that, in the mid-19th century, he and his colleagues began to describe as "The first literary language of civilized Europe." Means of expression of the troubadours, language of medieval administration, Provençal (and Latin), a variant of Occitan, in the 16th century they lost prestige and bureaucratic prominence, especially after the incorporation of Provence into the domain of the king Francisco I. Absent from the roles of the State, the great fall of Occitan would occur, however, during the Revolution, which imposed French as the only national language to consolidate the unity of the country.
An injustice, in the eyes of Mistral who, 300 years after the disposition of Francisco I, founded in 1854 the Félibrige, an association destined to safeguard and promote the language, culture and everything that in his opinion constituted the identity of the region. At first, the action was limited to Provençal, but between 1878 and 1893 it was extended to a group of languages that included Catalan. Mistral, for his part, was a living incarnation of those contradictions that led the fervor for the region, typical of the 1848 revolutions, to the nationalism of the "League of the French homeland" which, created in 1898, brought together those who supported the guilt of Alfred Dreyfus.
In 1896 -the trial of Dreyfus had occurred in 1894 and Émile Zola published "J'accuse" in January 1898- Émile Marignan, a Provençal doctor and friend of Mistral, was in charge of writing the Instructions pour la recolle des objets d'ethnographie du pays arlésien (Instructions for the collection of ethnographic objects from the Arles region), in order to have a manual to promote gifts and donations to a museum that still does not exist but is still used today to define a heritage that does not stop increase.
Ethnography, Marignan said, is an anthropological science whose object of study is the description of the social state of populations whose customs, beliefs, industry, arts, literature, physical and moral traits have not been affected by modern civilization. Today - unlike Mistral's proposal - the museum does not rule out the culture of industrial society or the objects produced by the contemporary world. But in the 1890s, ethnography was a relatively new discipline, and museums dedicated to it were just getting started. During the Universal Exhibition of 1878, the same one where Florentino Ameghino exhibited the fossil collections that he would later sell, the Trocadéro palace had dedicated a large sample to him. Right there, in 1880, the Muséum ethnographique des missions scientifiques was opened to the public.
Provençal ethnography wanted to distance itself from the capital city; while the latter was concerned, above all, with the primitives and forgot the civilized, Arles would devote himself to French ethnography, "much more interesting and instructive than that of the lower peoples." An urgent task because ancient costumes, objects and traditions disappeared before his eyes, carried away at the speed of steam by the barrage of progress.
Ethnographic museums, collection and exhibition of their heritage
Mistral and Marignan proposed to stop this clock and, through the instructions, appealed to the help of all the people of Provence and Bas-Languedoc to cooperate with this company. Marignan ordered the objects to be collected and clarified that the list was incomplete because otherwise he would have composed "a catalog of the museum before the existence of the Museum." The work was yet to be done and was based - adapting it to local conditions - on the brochure published by Armand Landrin, curator of the Trocadéro Museum: Instructions sommaires relatives aux collections d'objets ethnographiques des peuples civilisés (1888) which, in effect , also they could be applied to savages and, as we see, to Provence.
Marignan repeated the broad lines of Landrin's classification, ordering things into various sections beginning with anthropology, his photographs of local types, men and women from the front and in profile, casts of heads and hands, casts and photographs of busts. female, hair and eye color samples.
Group two was represented by food, agriculture, animal husbandry, hunting and fishing and included breads and desserts, samples or wax reproductions of the country's preparations, liquors, work tools, harnesses, brands for the cattle and everything concerning the ornaments of the bulls, the bullfighting world and its guardians. Today some bulls collected then survive - "embalmed" - in their tanks whose elevator, it is worth clarifying, was designed with the appropriate size to move them from top to bottom and from bottom to top.
Group three continued through family life, housing, furniture, household utensils, costumes, jewelry and games, collected in the form of models a few centimeters high, photographs and objects. Marignan dedicated a special paragraph to the headdresses and jewels of the Arlesianas, as well as to the goldsmithing of the region.
The following groups referred to the cult, the religious ceremonies, the popular traditions, the superstition, the witchcraft, to the traces of the paganism and the already disappeared cults; to the sciences and arts such as medicine, medicinal plants, astronomy, meteorology, accounting, music, and drawings made on bull horns, cheese boxes, trees, and stones. It continued with industry and commerce, social life, costumes and popular festivals. It ended with bibliography and iconography since Provençal literature, although thanks to the Félibrige, was not in danger of disappearing, it would also have a display case.
In 1897, Le Forum Républicain published some of the donations received: money provided by Count Jean de Sabran-Pontevès, eight stamps sent by a councilor of the court of Aix, and spinning instruments delivered by a widow. The committee thanked and promised to recognize each of the future donors.
The Museum, which at that time had five thousand pieces, would open its doors two years later, in May 1899, installed in a corridor and in the six rooms located on the second floor of the Commercial Court, a space made available by the General Council of the Mouth of the Rhône. But as of 1904, the Museum managed to move to a special building for its collections: thanks to the endowment of the Nobel Prize for Literature awarded that year to Mistral and the copyright he received for his works, the poet acquired and remodeled the Jesuit College of the city. There remains this project that, from the beginning, included the assembly of a series of life-size mannequins dressed in the ancient and modern costumes of the country. Thus, the number of L’Aïoli of January 17, 1896, mentioned the importance of the mannequins to present the "national costume" of the women of Arles. This monthly newspaper published in Avignon defended the cause of the South, the language, federalism and cultural identity against the Francophones.
With the choice of the mannequins, Mistral and Marignan adopted a museographic approach that had been rejected by the artists of the French Committee for the Presentation of Popular Costumes at the Universal Exhibition of 1867, but which seemed to revive in the 1880s. debate that stirred scientific and folk circles in the late nineteenth century, the poet preserved the realistic effect of the mannequin and wanted to apply it to his museum. The choice of him was similar to those made in the other incipient ethnographic museums, as seen, for example, in the Revue des Traditions Populaires that disseminated information on the matter. The most striking example of the use of mannequins was that of the Quimper museum, created in Brittany in 1874 but reorganized in 1881. In the Trocadero Palace, where Mistral may have been during his trips to Paris, the mannequins were used for the presentation of objects.
At the Arlaten Museum, Frédéric Mistral did not limit himself to imitating those models. In the Instructions, Marignan specifies that the mannequins are necessary to bring to life the scenes, an interior of a Provencal house or a shepherd from the Camargo region. But the novelty of Arles lies in the fact that Marignan compiled the anthropological observations made on the local population and, with them in hand, asked the sculptor Claude-André Férigoule (1863-1946) to model the mannequins from nature, seeking to obtain realistic portraits of individuals considered archetypes of the Provencal population. The sculptor, assisted by his wife, who had studied the mannequins at the Chambéry museum in Savoy, endeavored to make the figures realistic using clay, plaster, natural hair and colored glass eyes, but avoiding wax, which gave the figures a cadaverous complexion.
Today, the Arles mannequins, a comfortable and attractive means of presentation, have become a collector's item in their own right, an ethnographic sculpture and one of the driving forces behind the visit. In the recent renovation of the museum they were restored: in addition to cleaning them, the wigs were made again with natural hair and using techniques already in disuse but recovered by the hairdressers in charge of this task.
However, over the decades, the anthropological significance of the mannequins faded. In the interwar period, the debate for and against its use in museums was rekindled, fueled by the articles by HP Touzet published between 1929 and 1930 in the Revue des Provinces de France, the positions of Arnold Van Gennep in the work Le Folklore from 1924 and Albert Maumené's comments in the magazine La vie à la campagne created in 1906. From 1936, Fernand Benoît, archaeologist, scholar and curator of the Arlaten Museum, planned to extend these representations to the clothing section of the 18th century, based on Frédéric Mistral's interest in Antoine Raspal's painting "L'atelier des couturières" (the seamstresses' workshop). In 1940 he justified the creation of a reconstruction with life-size mannequins presenting it as an echo, a duplicate of the dioramas, a stage in the history of the costume Forty years after the opening of the Museon Arlaten, the now elderly Férigoule would receive this new commission.
The mannequins on this shore of the Atlantic
In Argentina, the mannequins would appear more or less at the same time: first in the Sarmiento School Museum, an educational museum in Buenos Aires, where around 1910 they aroused several criticisms for the somewhat dark skin of the national heroes. In the Museum of La Plata they would be used to present to the public the costumes of the ancient Peruvians. In this case, the model was not a bust or photo from the anthropological collections but the wife of the Italian doctor and geologist Joaquín Frenguelli, then director of the museum. But earlier, in the 1920s, they had appeared in another provincial museum: the Luján Museum, the museum promoted by Enrique Udaondo, who, far away, far removed from Marignan's anthropology, was much closer to Frédéric's conceptual drift. Mistral.
To carry out this museum of the colonial period, whose history María Elida Blasco analyzed, Udaondo - like Mistral - depended on the mobilization of people and objects to create that space that was armed with these wills and some inventiveness. Unlike Mistral, Udaondo was not a writer, nor a character of fame or success in the field of history and letters. Without a prize, without millionaire rights, the museum was founded on the volatility of public funds.
The gaucho and his horse. Reproduced in the catalog of the Colonial and Historical Museum of Luján, so called in 1933.
As Roberto Vega reminds us, when preparing the exhibition entitled "Apero criollo. Art and tradition", they sought the entry of a mount type "lomillo" that appeared reproduced in a photograph in the catalog of the Museum of Luján, which can be seen on the figure of a horse and to the side, standing, the gaucho with his clothing. At that time there was only talk of the existence of two period copies of the aforementioned loin, a type of saddle that from the 1860s was gradually replaced by the wand. Luján's would have been a third party. Neither the gaucho nor the saddled horse were to be found in the Museum's heritage and it was a question of finding the origin of the whole set. Great was the surprise when one of the folders in the Lujanense archive revealed that the loin had been made at the request of the donors in a saddlery, it was not old, and it responded to the order of the donors -among which were the great collectors of the time , all friends of E. Udaondo-, who thus attended the commission of the founder and director of the museum. The gaucho's clothes had been acquired in a costume house, in a framework linked to the promotion of traditionalism through competitions in the Carnivals. Right there they had also bought the mannequin that they dressed in these clothes. It remains for the future to resolve how much Udaondo knew about the projects of the Provençal poet who, as the pseudonym Lucila Godoy Alcayaga indicates, was a writer who, at that time, aroused admiration on both sides of the Andes. Gabriela Mistral -the literary name of Godoy Alcayaga- would be the first Ibero-American woman to receive the Nobel Prize: Mistral, without a doubt, a lucky name.
(*): Written at the Camargo Foundation, in Cassis, in October 2021. Special for Hilario.