Museum of Chinese Art and Ethnography Xaverian Missionaries - V.le S. Martino, 8 - Parma, Italy 0521-257.337

A Century-old Story

P. Emilio Iurman


San Guido Maria Conforti
Guido Maria Conforti

The Museum of Chinese Art Museum and Ethnography of Parma began in 1901. Here are some important dates.

Guido M. Conforti, priest of the diocese of Parma, founds the Xaverian missionaries, whose official name is "Emilian Seminary for Foreign Missions." The first building is located in the center of Parma, in Borgo Leon d' Oro. Inspired by the great missionary figure of St. Francis Xavier, he names the congregation “Xaverian Institute for Foreign Missions.”

In the first rules for his future missionaries, Conforti writes: "As you come into the various territories of your missions, please send to the Mother house some cultural elements of ethnology and art." This is the first mention of the founding of a museum, while there still were no missionaries in the missions.

Ceramic vase donated by sen. Fedele Lampertico
Vase donated by sen. Fedele Lampertico
The idea of a museum began to take shape with the donation by Senator Fedele Lampertico of some Chinese objects from the Universal Exhibition of Turin (1898).

On the initiative of the National Association of Italian Catholic Missionaries Abroad, of which Lampertico was president, a small area was set up to display materials from China, Japan and India.

Conforti had appealed to this association for aid for the newly constructed Motherhouse of the Xaverian Institute, in Campo Marte, (now the Mother House of the Xaverian , Viale San Martino 8, also home of the museum). The sen. Lampertico responded by sending two boxes of Chinese objects.

Conforti gave away some object, while the rest he kept to adorn the future home, which became the first fruits of his cherished museum.

The Motherhouse of the Xaverian missionaries, Casa Madre dei Saveriani
The Motherhouse of the Xaverian missionaries

Inauguration of the new Motherhouse. In early December, Edoardo Manini comes back from China, following the unexpected death of his companion Fr. Caio Rastelli. They were the first two students of Mgr. Conforti who had left for China just two years earlier.

Bishop Conforti had asked him to bring as many objects as he could, and Edoardo gave a substantial contribution, as to convince Msgr. Conforti to begin a permanent exhibit in a room on the first floor of the new building. This collection was then called Ethnographic Museum of China.

It is the start date of the museum.

Father Giovanni Bonardi, in chinese clothing
Father Giovanni Bonardi, Chinese style
1911 - 1936
In March 1911 Fr. Giovanni Bonardi returns to Italy, and the museum is enriched with lots of objects: bronzes, porcelains, paintings, coins and so on. A new space was expanded and opened to display the new Chinese material, and this configuration given by both Conforti and Bonardi lasted until 1936 and remained under the responsibility of the competent authority of the same Fr. Bonardi.

With regard to China, the only mission activity of the Xaverians, constant was the sending of objects, coinciding with the return of individual missionaries to Italy, until 1948, when the political changes in that country led to the expulsion of all missionaries.

1936 - 1957
In the summer of 1936, the museum was brought to the ground floor in a large room called “the Redeemer”, where it remained until 1941. At the start of the World War II, the objects of the museum were boxed and hidden in a villa in Basilicanova, and with the family of Fr. Mainini, Praticello Gattatico (RE). The collections and objects returned to its usual place at the Motherhouse in Parma, after the war, and were again set up in 1950.

1957 - 1959
Great work on the restructuring and expansion of the Motherhouse brought the museum in a hall in the basement. Great effort was made to pick up the objects of historical and artistic importance, and a new name added: “the Art Museum of China”. Meanwhile the ethnographic material, which came from the opening of other missions around the world, was collected in a second larger room, with the name “Museum of Ethnography”.

Fr. Giuseppe Toscano, author of the first catalog of the Chinese Museum of Parma, 1965
Fr. Giuseppe Toscano, author of the first catalog
of the "Chinese Museum of Parma", 1965
1959 - 1965
The museum received a decisive input from the trained eye and direction of Fr. Giuseppe Toscano, especially in the years 1963-1965, when more than a hundred historical and valuable pieces enriched the museum.

Fr. Toscano was able to gather and study the objects, and publish the first edition of his voluminous catalog "Chinese Art Museum of Parma" (1965).

The museum underwent a pretty serious theft on the night of July 6, as described by the following excerpt: "Thieves entered by forcing open a window, and took away several bags of items including many ivories, bronzes, etc. In all, about 90 pieces." (from "History of the Mother House").

The museum in the basement of the Motherhouse in Parma (1998)
The museum in the basement of the
Xaverian Motherhouse in Parma (1998-2010)
1998 - 2010
Due to new construction for the habitability / accessibility of the Mother House, the premises of the museum undergo a further adjustment, and the whole museum is gathered in the great hall of the basement.

Fr. Emilio Iurman becomes director of the museum, and starts and completes a work of digital database and cataloging of all objects in the museum, including its rich numismatic collection.

On October 12, work begins on a comprehensive restructuring of the museum, which includes the great hall in the basement, the adjacent areas of the ground floor, and the first floor of the east wing part of the Mother House.

December 1: Opening of the present museum, the Museum of Chinese Art and Ethnography.