Italy's the best exhibition of the year: review of Simonino da Trento wins Europa Nostra Awards

Italy also wins best exhibition this year: the Museo Diocesano Tridentino's "The Invention of the Guilty," an exhibition dedicated to Simonino da Trento, won the Grand Prix 2021 of the European Heritage Awards / Europa Nostra Awards.

Italy is on the shields this year not only in sports, where we won practically everything, but also on culture: in fact, it is an Italian exhibition that has won the 2021 edition of the prestigious Grand Prix of the European Heritage Awards / Europa Nostra Awards, Europe’s highest honor in the field of Cultural Heritage. The “Europeans” of exhibitions (the “Education, Training and Awareness-raising” category of the award, which also includes educational and didactic projects) this year was won by L’invenzione del colpevole, the fine exhibition on the case of Simonino da Trento (here is our review) held at the Museo Diocesano Tridentino from December 14, 2019 to September 15, 2020, curated by Domenica Primerano, Domizio Cattoi, Lorenza Liandru and Valentina Perini. Since 2002, only six Italian projects have received the Grand Prix of the European Heritage Awards / Europa Nostra Awards, and none before the Museo Diocesano Tridentino in the Education, Training and Awareness-raising category. An important first for Italy then.

The exhibition was organized by the Tridentine Diocesan Museum and was based on extensive research in collaboration with the Department of Humanities, the Faculty of Law of the University of Trent, the Tridentine Diocesan Archives and the Trento Historical Museum Foundation. The project was funded by the Autonomous Province of Trento, Fondazione Caritro and the Municipality of Trento. The work stimulates (“admirably” for the prize jury) a critical reflection on the construction of a hostile “other”; on the spread of intolerant behavior toward people of different race, religion or culture, fueled by prejudice and stereotypes; and on the power of propaganda and fake news. The exhibition told, through works of art and historical objects, the story of Simonino da Trento: in 1475, Trent witnessed the death of two-year-old Simonino that led to the conviction of three Jewish families for “ritual murder” on the basis of confessions obtained under torture and reinforced by the anti-Jewish propaganda created by the bishop of the time. Simoninus of Trent was subsequently venerated as a martyr until the mid-20th century. The re-examination of court documents in 1965 led the Church to abolish the cult. Since then, chapels dedicated to Simoninus of Trent were closed and iconographic works related to the cult were stored away from the eyes of the public. The Museum has now boldly taken up this historical thread and connected it to the present, aiming to raise awareness of the dangerous re-emergence of racist and anti-Semitic tendencies and pointing to the importance of independent critical thinking to combat intolerance.

The jury praised the great significance of the presentation of the “Simonino case” in a present-day framework: “This is a project of great relevance to the contemporary world as it employs a method to create critical thinking related to historical processes and deconstructs a historical example of fake news. The project, the result of a strong collaboration with many researchers, is not only an exhibition, but also a process that is ongoing and will continue.” As part of the exhibition, various educational materials have been prepared for secondary and high school students, including a walk through the city in search of evidence of Trent’s Ashkenazi Jewish community and places relevant to the “Simonino case.” Given its regional, national and international importance, the exhibit will be included in the Museum’s permanent exhibition. “This project,” the jury noted, “reveals the creation of false history and shows the value of critical thinking. It has great relevance in the fight against fake news and thus has great relevance to the contemporary world.”

The other three prizes went to the Wooden Church in the village of Ursi, Vâlcea county (Romania), a beautiful 18th-century wooden church that has been restored in an exemplary manner using traditional materials and techniques in a collaborative way, allowing the exchange of ideas and knowledge among international participants; to FIBRANET - FIBRes in ANcient European Text iles (Denmark/Greece), an innovative research project providing new insights into the degradation of ancient fibers, helping to inform archaeological practice and providing crucial knowledge useful to all Europeans as we seek solutions to deal with the waste generated by the fashion and textile industries; and to the Technical Committee for Cultural Heritage (Cyprus), established in 2008 by Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders under the auspices of the United Nations, which has successfully restored more than seventy monuments, using cultural heritage as a powerful tool for reconciliation and peaceful cooperation. The Grand Prix winners, chosen by the Europa Nostra Council on the recommendation of an independent jury of experts, will receive 10,000 euros each. The announcement of the four winners of the 2021 edition and the special ILUCIDARE and Public Choice Awards was held on September 23 in Venice as part of the European Cultural Heritage Summit.

In a congratulatory message, David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, said, “I would like to congratulate the 24 winners of the European Cultural Heritage Awards / Europa Nostra Awards 2021. Each of you has made a contribution to the protection, enhancement and promotion of our rich cultural heritage and to the common building of Europe’s future. The European Green Deal, our external relations, the future of Europe naturally pass through our identity. So, let me express my appreciation and thanks for your efforts.”

“I warmly congratulate the impressive winners of the European Cultural Heritage Awards / Europa Nostra Awards 2021 for their success and their remarkable contributions to our Europe of culture,” said Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth. “The far-reaching impact of the winners illustrates the invaluable contribution of Europe’s cultural heritage to our society, economy and environment. At a time when Europe is determined to build again and better, these success stories are a true inspiration and a powerful example of what we, as Europeans, can achieve together despite the challenges we face. I hope these awards will help your excellent projects thrive and play an even greater role in the recovery of our Europe.”

“After such a long period of physical distance, it was an immense joy to meet and celebrate our winners in the iconic monastic complex of the Giorgio Cini Foundation on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice,” said Hermann Parzinger, Executive President of Europa Nostra. “Each of our winners demonstrates the potential of our shared cultural heritage to help build a more resilient, more inclusive and more beautiful Europe. On behalf of the large family of Europa Nostra, I wholeheartedly congratulate our winners on being the proud recipients of Europe’s highest recognition in the field of cultural heritage. May these awards be a springboard to elevate your success and inspire heritage professionals and enthusiasts in Europe and beyond.”

Pictured is curator (and director of the Tridentine Diocesan Museum) Domenica Primerano at the awards ceremony.

Italy's the best exhibition of the year: review of Simonino da Trento wins Europa Nostra Awards
Italy's the best exhibition of the year: review of Simonino da Trento wins Europa Nostra Awards

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