1879
Palma di Cesnola, United States General during the Civil War, named first director of Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Luigi Palma di Cesnola (1832-1904) lived one of the most celebrated and fascinating careers of any Italian American. Born near Turin in 1832, the son of a Piedmontese military nobleman, Luigi demonstrated an interest in a military career, attending fine military schools. He saw front line action as an officer in the Sardinian Army that went to war against Austria, as well as, action in the Crimean War. In 1860 he came to New York where the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 saw him receive a commission as a lieutenant colonel in charge of a New York brigade. He showed his mettle by his brave performance on the battlefield, suffered a serious wound, and was incarcerated in the disreputable Libby Prison. Upon his release he returned to military action and continued his valorous accomplishment on the scene of carnage, was named a brigadier general, and later received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Two other Italian Americans, Edward Ferrero and Francis B. Spinola, also served as generals during the Civil War.

Before the end of the Civil War, President Lincoln appointed di Cesnola consul to Cyprus ushering the last phase of his illustrious career where he combined diplomacy with archeology. At his own personal expense he supervised digs that unearthed thousands of priceless artifacts of ancient civilizations: Phoenician, Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Arabic. These items, some of which were priceless, were sold to the newly formed Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Di Cesnola then produced an important book in which he carefully classified over 35,000 artifacts that were regarded as the critical bedrock of the new museum. In gratitude, the museum appointed him secretary -a position he held for the rest of his life.






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