Objects of Belief from the Vatican — Opening This Weekend


Mbulu-ngulu, (Reliquary Figure) Gabon, Kota people, (Obamba or Mindumu group) Late 19th-early 20th century Copper, brass, iron, wood, 101060. Photo © Vatican Museums

If you happen to be traveling to San Francisco between now and September 8, 2013, be sure and check out the excellent Objects of Belief from the Vatican exhibition at the de Young Museum.  Although there are only 39 objects in this well-curated collection, they each tell a unique story. And since none of the artifacts have ever been out of the Vatican Ethnological Museum, this special exhibition is even more intriguing.

Although each artifact is truly a work of art, collectively they work as cultural ambassadors to tell the stories of the people that gave these very precious works of art to the Vatican.

For example, there’s the wood sculpture of Tu from the Mangarevan Islands in French Polynesia. Tu was a major divinity that guaranteed the growth of the breadfruit tree; and on an island where that’s your main source of food, a bountiful harvest is very important. This is also a very rare piece — only a dozen of these figures exist today.

Then there is the ornate crocodile carving from the Sepik River region in Papua New Guinea. Although it’s a very attractive piece, the story about the adolescent initiation ceremony into manhood just chilled me. Apparently when boys come of age they have to be bitten numerous times by a crocodile. It’s believed that they are are reborn and become men. The description also noted that most adult males resemble crocodiles because of the raised bumps on their torsos from the initiation ceremony. Chilling indeed.

Quetzalcoatl, Mexico, Central Plateau, Mexica Culture (Aztec), Late Postclassic (1350 – 1521 CE), Stone, 101536. Photo © Vatican Museums

And then there’s the fifteenth century Mexico stone sculpture, Quetzacoatl. This Aztec God had many manifestations, but the one depicted in the sculpture is the feathered serpent, a powerful embodiment of earth and sky. It’s believed that Querzacoatl created human beings, and introduced corn — an Aztec staple — to the culture. No wonder he’s so revered.

As you can see, this exhibition is more than just a collection of artifacts — it’s a journey through the cultures of Africa, Oceania and the Americas.

I should also add that the de Young has excellent access. Accessible parking is available in the underground garage just off Fulton, near 10th Street. From there it’s just a few steps to the door. Inside you’ll find very spacious galleries with elevator access to all floors, and truly accessible restrooms.

Additional access information about the  de Young can be fount on their website.

So stop on in if you’re in the neighborhood — you won’t be sorry.