In a very crowded corner of the Agostinelli Museum, near Rome, there is a scroll with an aphorism attributed to Benjamin Franklin, which reads, “A place for everything, everything in its place.”
It seems ironic to see the rule right here, where Domenico Agostinelli has gathered and kept thousands of objects since the 1950s. But Agostinelli has catalogued all of his items of course, and continues to find a place for each one, every day, with the patience of an anchorite. He has created over four hundred collections, of every imaginable kind: bootjacks, autograph letters (even by some of the heroes of Italian Risorgimento, Garibaldi and Mazzini), medical instruments, taxidermied animals, books (including the smallest one in the world), telescopes, postcards, hats. He has created a staggering world of categories and lists.
The museum is about everything… and more: “Files, sills, atlases, wine-glasses, nails,” to quote Borges’s famous poem about all the things that will “long outlast our oblivion”.
Before he moved to Rome and opened his museum – officially the Museum of Popular Culture and Past Craftsmanship (Museo della Cultura popolare e dell’Artigianato scomparso) – Agostinelli worked as a ‘santaro’, selling paintings of saints. From his small hometown in the province of Teramo, he traveled across Abruzzo’s countryside, and often accepted a nice meal, or a few objects, in payment.
He likely sold at least a few images of Saint Anthony of Padua, the saint of finding things or lost people. The Portuguese friar certainly watches over Agostinelli, and perhaps has something to do with his incredible ability to never lose anything…
… and to showcase in his museum things believed to be lost.