The Italian Almanac

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Italian News - June 28

A fascinating new exhibition in Siena proves that the walking stick is much more than a physical support for the aged and infirm. The show, entitled Bastoni: Materia, Arte e Potere (Canes: Materials, Art and Power), is on at Santa Maria della Scala museum complex.

It reveals how people have used the cane as a weapon, a symbol of power and a fashion accessory over the years, along with a host of other purposes. It features 500 rare exhibits, loaned from museums and private collections, which recount the history of the walking stick between the 14th and 20th centuries.

Some of the earliest pieces are ecclesiastic staffs, used by top figures in the Catholic Church to help assert their spiritual authority over the faithful, experts say. They are embellished with elaborate carvings and illustrations depicting the Virgin Mary and scenes from the life of Jesus.

The show also tells the story of how the cane took over from the sword as an essential part of the European gentleman's wardrobe in the 17th and 18th centuries. In fact, for a long time, the walking stick retained the defensive function of the sword. Many of the canes are even fitted with extra weapons, like knives.

Another part of the exhibition looks at the walking sticks of the 19th century, when the middle classes started to use them too. One has a little slot for cigarattes, cigars and matches, and a lady's cane has a powder case, a fan and a little bottle of perfume. There are also unusual pieces brought back home by sailors from the four corners of the globe.

Organizers said that this is the first exhibition of its kind to be staged in Italy and only the second of this size devoted exclusively to canes in Europe, after a major show in Paris back in 1980. The exhibition runs at the Santa Maria della Scala museum complex until August 26.