Inti Ligabue, son of Italian explorer Giancarlo Ligabue, carries on his father’s legacy of humanity and tolerance with the 50th anniversary of his foundation.
Giancarlo Ligabue was one of Italy’s most successful entrepreneurs – and also a polymath, with interests spanning paleontology, archaeology, ethnography, and exploration. He has three dinosaurs named after him and embarked on a string of globe-trotting adventures, eventually amassing a collection of more than 5,500 fossils, minerals, and ethnographic artifacts that still serve as a valuable resource for scientific study today.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Ligabue Study and Research Center, which was renamed the Giancarlo Ligabue Foundation in 2016 to promote and organize collaborative scientific expeditions across the world. To celebrate five decades of its unwavering commitment to knowledge, the foundation is hosting a series of conferences with the Natural History Museum of Venice, starting in September.
For Inti Ligabue, Giancarlo’s only child, his father’s objects were simply a part of his surroundings. “I know I am fortunate because I was born into a house where art from every era and region surrounds me – paintings, tribal pieces, drawings, and objects like a 3 million-year-old chopper, the earliest tool of Homo erectus, alongside contemporary paintings and photographs.” The Gothic 15th-century palace has been in his family for three generations and is filled with priceless treasures and artifacts. It is akin to living in a museum dedicated to the history of civilization.
Despite the Ligabue collection’s reverence in the scientific community, the young Inti did not always appreciate these objects as he does now. “Once, while playing football with a friend, I accidentally broke a Roman statue, and my father didn’t speak to me for a month.” During its restoration it was discovered that the head and body were from different time periods and had been fused centuries earlier. “I prefer it without a head; I’m a purist,” says Ligabue with a laugh.
Ligabue is now the custodian of his father’s foundation, company, and legacy. He is a walking encyclopedia, effortlessly reciting facts and figures about the objects that surround him. During a conversation about a recent business trip to the Gulf, he casually retrieves a prehistoric hand ax, reminiscent of one he had seen at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
In 2024, he plans to open his home and private collection in a more accessible way to the public. This will provide Ligabue with an opportunity to share not only his father’s collection, but also the pieces he has added over the years. “I greatly enjoy conducting
private visits. I like to narrate the stories behind the objects, why we chose them, and what we aim to convey with them. My father used to say to me, ‘We must be the poets of these objects. These are cultures that can no longer speak, so we must speak on their behalf.”
Giancarlo died in 2015, and his son began to archive what remained of his father’s collection. Some 2,000 pieces are on permanent loan to the Natural History Museum in Venice. For Ligabue, it was a way of getting to know his father better, who was 50 years older than him. “I know more about my father from what I have read, learned, and seen than from what I lived with him because he was a very busy man,” he shares. “However, I did have the opportunity to accompany him on his last eight expeditions. Initially, I was too young, and later, he was too old. Our overlapping years were limited.” Together, among other destinations, they traveled to the archaeological sites in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, Easter Island, and Aboriginal caves in Australia.
In 2019, the Ligabue family marked several significant milestones. They celebrated the centennial of their family company, and the Museum of Natural History in Venice was renamed in honor of Giancarlo, cementing his legacy. To commemorate the inauguration, Ligabue commissioned a documentary about his father. During a review of footage, the documentarian came across an interview with Giancarlo. The interviewer asked him what his greatest discovery was, and he responded, gesturing to the toddler Inti, “It’s this two-year-old boy, it’s fatherhood. I’ve discovered dinosaurs and civilizations that didn’t have a name, but this is the biggest thing I found in 50 years.” Overwhelmed with emotion, a tearful son canceled his business meetings for the day to reflect on the words. “I was absolutely overwhelmed. It was a post-mortem message to me, from a father I didn’t know that well.”
Giancarlo was also a generous philanthropist who established his foundation with a mission to promote and support scientific research, education, and cultural initiatives, particularly in the fields of archaeology, anthropology, and environmental conservation. In recent years, Ligabue has expanded the foundation’s mission, drawing inspiration from his childhood expeditions with his father and the profound impact it had on him. “I learned to appreciate the beauty of diversity and the richness of a world that embraces various cultures and histories of learning,” Ligabue says. “Some years ago, I would have said that we learn about our future by understanding our past. But now, I believe it’s about learning how to adapt and change. That’s why I feel a deep sense of responsibility to continue the foundation’s work in a different way. While my father focused on research and expeditions, I emphasize dissemination. Over the past seven years, we’ve produced more than eight publications, magazines, and conferences. To me, research without dissemination, without sharing the knowledge of discoveries and the understanding of history at all levels, doesn’t yield any meaningful benefits. It doesn’t nourish tolerance. Throughout humanity, people have asked the same questions about the miracle of life, the fear of death, and our collective journey and purpose.”
Originally published in the Fall/Winter 2023 issue of Vogue Living Arabia