History of Science Museum: Collection Database Search

Narratives

Inv. 49023 - Featured object July 2007

Both this quarter's featured objects feature the moon. This small crescent moon is an amulet from Southern Italy. Such devices were worn to provide magical protection, particularly against the Evil Eye - the ancient and very widespread belief that an evil influence or fascination can be exerted on anyone by a glance from the eyes.

This is just one of several amulets collected by the Museum's first curator, R.T. Gunther, who frequently visited Italy in the period around 1900. (The theodolite he used for a survey of the Italian coast is upstairs in the Top Gallery in the "Owners" display case.) Gunther took a serious interest in the study of superstitions around Naples and published an account of amulets in the Transactions of the Folk-Lore Society in 1905. By then his research was already well-established: he had been donating objects to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford for over a decade. This example was part of the material which he retained in his own collection. Although he eventually focused on the foundation and development of this museum, the moon amulet shows just how broadly Gunther's intellectual and collecting interests ranged.

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