Giuseppe Tucci

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Tucci drinking butter tea in Tibet. Photo by Fosco Maraini.

Giuseppe Tucci (5 June 1894 – 5 April 1984) was an Italian scholar of oriental cultures, specialising in Tibet and history of Buddhism. During its zenith, Tucci was a supporter of Italian Fascism, and he used idealized portrayals of Asian traditions to support Italian ideological campaigns. Tucci was fluent in several European languages, Sanskrit, Bengali, Pali, Prakrit, Chinese and Tibetan and he taught at the University of Rome La Sapienza until his death. He is considered one of the founders of the field of Buddhist Studies.

Life and work[edit]

Education and background[edit]

He was born to a middle-class family in Macerata, Marche, and thrived academically. He taught himself Hebrew, Chinese and Sanskrit before even going to university and in 1911, aged only 18, he published a collection of Latin epigraphs in the prestigious Review of the Germanic Archaeological Institute. He completed his studies at the University of Rome in 1919, where his studies were repeatedly interrupted as a result of World War I.

After graduating, he traveled to India and settled down at the Visva-Bharati University, founded by the Bengali poet and Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. There he studied Buddhism, Tibetan and Bengali, and also taught Italian and Chinese. He also studied and taught at Dhaka University, the University of Benares and Calcutta University. He remained in India until 1931, when he returned to Italy.

Scholarship and reputation[edit]

He was Italy's foremost scholar of the East, with such diverse research interests ranging from ancient Iranian religion to Chinese philosophy. He taught primarily at the University of Rome but was a visiting scholar at institutions throughout Europe and Asia. In 1931, the University of Naples made him its first Chair of Chinese Language and Literature. In 1933, with the philosopher Giovanni Gentile, he founded the Italian Institute for the Middle and Far East (Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente), based in Rome.

Tucci officially visited Japan for the first time in November 1936, and remained there until January 1937, when he attended at the opening of the Italian-Japanese Institute (Istituto Italo-nipponico) in Tokyo.[1] Tucci traveled all over Japan giving lectures on Tibet and "racial purity".[2]

He organised several pioneering archaeological digs throughout Asia, such as in Swat in Pakistan, Ghazni in Afghanistan, Persepolis in Iran and in the Himalayas. He was also the promoter of the National Museum of Oriental Art. In 1978 he received the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding,[3] in 1979 the Balzan Prize for History (ex aequo with Ernest Labrousse). During the course of his life, he wrote over 360 books and articles.


Tucci was a supporter of Italian Fascism and Benito Mussolini.[2] He wrote popular articles for the Italian state that decried the rationalism of industrialized 1930s-1940s Europe and yearned for an authentic existence in touch with nature, that he claimed could be found in Asia.[4] According to Tibetologist Donald S. Lopez, "For Tucci, Tibet was an ecological paradise and timeless utopia into which industrialized Europe figuratively could escape and find peace, a cure for western ills, and from which Europe could find its own pristine past to which to return."[5]


Tucci died in San Polo dei Cavalieri, near Rome, in 1984.

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Indo-tibetica 1: Mc'od rten e ts'a ts'a nel Tibet indiano ed occidentale: contributo allo studio dell'arte religiosa tibetana e del suo significato, Roma, Reale Accademia d'Italia, 1932 (Chinese transl.:《梵天佛地 1: 西北印度和西藏西部的塔和擦擦——试论藏族宗教艺术及其意义》, 魏正中 萨尔吉 主编. 上海, 上海古籍出版社, 2009);
  • Indo-tibetica 2: Rin c'en bzan po e la rinascita del buddhismo nel Tibet intorno al Mille, Roma, Reale Accademia d'Italia, 1933 (English transl.: Rin-chen-bzan-po and the renaissance of Buddhism in Tibet around the millennium, New Delhi, Aditya Prakashan, [1988]; Chinese transl.:《梵天佛地 2: 仁钦桑波及公元1000年左右藏传佛教的复兴》, 魏正中 萨尔吉 主编. 上海, 上海古籍出版社, 2009);
  • (with E. Ghersi) Cronaca della missione scientifica Tucci nel Tibet occidentale (1933), Roma, Reale Accademia d'Italia, 1934 (English transl.: Secrets of Tibet. Being the chronicle of the Tucci Scientific Expedition to Western Tibet, 1933, London & Glasgow, Blackie & Son, 1935);
  • Indo-tibetica 3 : I templi del Tibet occidentale e il loro simbolismo artistico, 2 vols, Roma, Reale Accademia d'Italia, 1935-1936 (Chinese transl.:《梵天佛地 3: 西藏西部的寺院及其艺术象征》, 魏正中 萨尔吉 主编. 上海, 上海古籍出版社, 2009);
  • Santi e briganti nel Tibet ignoto: diario della spedizione nel Tibet occidentale 1935, Milano, U. Hoepli, 1937;
  • Indo-tibetica 4: Gyantse ed i suoi monasteri, 3 vols, Roma, Reale Accademia d'Italia, 1941 (English transl.: Gyantse and its monasteries, New Delhi, Aditya Prakashan, 1989; Chinese transl.:《梵天佛地 4: 江孜及其寺院》, 魏正中 萨尔吉 主编. 上海, 上海古籍出版社, 2009);
  • Asia religiosa, Roma, Partenia, 1946;
  • Tibetan Painted Scrolls, 3 vols, Roma, Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, 1949;
  • Teoria e pratica del Mandala, Roma, Astrolabio, 1949 (English transl.: The theory and practice of the Mandala, London, Rider and Co., 1961);
  • Italia e Oriente, Milano, Garzanti, 1949;
  • Tibetan folksongs from the district of Gyantse, Ascona, Artibus Asiae, 1949; 2nd rev. ed. 1966;
  • The Tombs of the Tibetan Kings, Roma, IsMEO, 1950;
  • A Lhasa e oltre, Roma, La Libreria dello Stato, 1950 (English transl.: To Lhasa and beyond, Roma, La Libreria dello Stato, 1956);
  • Tra giungle e pagode, Roma, La Libreria dello Stato, 1953;
  • Preliminary report on two scientific expeditions in Nepal, Roma, IsMEO, 1956;
  • Storia della filosofia indiana, Bari, Laterza, 1957;
  • Nepal: alla scoperta dei Malla, Bari, Leonardo da Vinci, 1960 (English transl.: Nepal. The discovery of the Malla, London, George Allen & Unwin, 1962);
  • Die Religionen Tibets in G. Tucci and W. Heissig, Die Religionen Tibets und der Mongolei, Stuttgart, W. Kohlhammer, 1970 (English transl.: The religions of Tibet, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980).
  • " Tibet. Land of Snows" Translated by J. E. Stapleton Driver. Oxford & IBH PublishingCo., Calcutta. Bombay. New Delhi.


  • Giuseppe Tucci: Commemorazione tenuta dal Presidente dell'Istituto Gherardo Gnoli il 7 maggio 1984 a Palazzo Brancaccio, Roma, IsMEO, 1984;
  • Raniero Gnoli, Ricordo di Giuseppe Tucci, Roma, IsMEO, 1985;
  • Giuseppe Tucci nel centenario della nascita : Roma, 7-8 giugno 1994, a cura di Beniamino Melasecchi, Roma, IsMEO, 1995;
  • Giuseppe Tucci : Un maceratese nelle terre sacre dell'Oriente, Macerata, Comune di Macerata, 2000;
  • Tucci l'esploratore dell'anima, Catalogue of the Exhibition, Pollenza, Arte Nomade, 2004 (in Italian and English)
  • Enrica Garzilli, "Un grande maceratese che andò lontano: Giuseppe Tucci, le Marche e l'Oriente" [English and Italian], in Identità Sibillina, Anno 2006, n. 2.
  • Enrica Garzilli, «Giuseppe Tucci: l’Indiana Jones italiano», in L’Illustrazione italiana, anno 3, numero 1, pp. 84–86.
  • Enrica Garzilli, «L’esploratore del Duce. Le avventure di Giuseppe Tucci e la politica italiana in Oriente da Mussolini a Andreotti: Con il carteggio di Giulio Andreotti», Milano, Memori / Asiatica Association, 2012, 2 voll. (740+742 pages), ISBN 978-8890022654 and ISBN 978-8890022661
  • "Concetto Guttuso intervistato da Oscar Nalesini", Il Giornale del Museo Nazionale d'Arte Orientale, n. 3, 2008, pp. 7–8 (sul viaggio in Nepal del 1952), now also on-line [1];
  • Oscar Nalesini, "Assembling loose pages, gathering fragments of the past: Giuseppe Tucci and his wanderings throughout Tibet and the Himalayas, 1926-1954", in Sanskrit Texts from Giuseppe Tucci’s Collection Part I, Ed. by F. Sferra, Roma, IsIAO, 2008, pp. 79–112 (Manuscripta buddhica, 1);
  • Oscar Nalesini, "Ghersi e gli altri. I fotografi delle spedizioni Tucci”. In Eugenio Ghersi, un marinaio ligure in Tibet, a cura di D. Bellatalla, C. A. Gemignani, L. Rossi. Genova, SAGEP, 2008, pp. 53–60;
  • Oscar Nalesini, "A short history of the Tibetan explorations of Giuseppe Tucci", in Visibilia invisibilium. Non-invasive analyses on Tibetan paintings from the Tucci expeditions, ed. by M. Laurenzi Tabasso. M.A. Polichetti, C. Seccaroni. Orientalis Publications, 2011, pp. 17–28;
  • Oscar Nalesini, "Il carteggio Moise-Tucci sulla spedizione tibetana del 1948 (The Moise-Tucci correspondence on the Tibetan expedition of 1948)", in Miscellanea di storia delle esplorazioni XXXVII, 2012, pp. 115–161;
  • O. Nalesini, "Felice Boffa Ballaran, diarista, fotografo e cartografo della spedizione italiana in Tibet del 1939", in Miscellanea di storia delle esplorazioni XXXVIII, Genova, 2013, pp. 267–309;
  • Francesca Orsini. Review of Garzilli, Enrica, L'esploratore del Duce. H-Asia, H-Net Reviews. June, 2014.;
  • Oscar Nalesini, "Onori e nefandezze di un esploratore. Note in margine a una recente biografia di Giuseppe Tucci (Honorable and disgraceful deeds of an explorer. Marginal notes on a recent biography of Giuseppe Tucci)". Annali dell'Istituto Orientale di Napoli 73, 2013, pp. 201–76.


  1. ^ {{The newsreel Giornale Luce B1079, 21 April 1937, on the opening entitled Giappone Tokyo. L'Istituto Italo-Nipponico, produced by Asahi and distributed in the Italian Cinemas, can be viewed at the site of Istituto Luce in Rome url=}}
  2. ^ a b "Fosco Maraini". Obituaries (The Independent). 2004-06-19. Retrieved 2010-09-25. 
  3. ^ "List of the recipients of the Jawaharlal Nehru Award". ICCR website. 
  4. ^ Clarke, John James (1997). Oriental enlightenment: the encounter between Asian and Western thought. Psychology Press. p. 196. ISBN 978-0-415-13376-0. 
  5. ^ Mullen, Eve (2001). The American occupation of Tibetan Buddhism: Tibetans and their American hosts in New York City. Jugend, Religion, Unterricht 6. Waxmann Verlag. p. 94. ISBN 978-3-8309-1053-4. 

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