Tintin and its universe are an excellent product to attract visitors. In Belgium, a museum and a zoo each claim to have the Amerindian mummy that inspired Hergé his Rascar Capac, a scary hero from the album “Les 7 boules de cristal”.
The Art and History Museum (MAH) in Brussels exhibits many objects reproduced in the adventures of Tintin. This institution of the Belgian cultural landscape thought it had everyone agreed ten years ago by indicating that it was his Peruvian mummy with the curled up skeleton which had inspired Hergé his character of Rascar Capac present in “The 7 crystal balls “.
But last week, the Pairi Daiza zoo, in Wallonia (South), pillar of the Belgian tourism industry, upset the reputation of the museum by repeating that it housed within its walls the “authentic mummy nicknamed Rascar Capac”.
Controversy between the museum and the zoo
The beginning of a controversy ensued, the management of the royal museums (which oversee the MAH, formerly known as the Cinquantenaire Museum) blaming the zoo for false advertising on the back of a mummy who is one of the treasures of its collections.
“We do not attract visitors by promising them pandas,” said Alexandra De Poorter, acting director general, referring to the Chinese stars of Pairi Daiza.
The zoo regretted “the controversy initiated by the royal museums” then wanted to calm the spirits. “No one knows for sure which mummy inspired Hergé to create Rascar Capac,” he said in a statement.
The only point of consensus: the 2,000-year-old mummy with hair and ornaments acquired by Pairi Daiza was shown in 1979 in Brussels in an exhibition entitled “The imaginary museum of Tintin”.
The event, conceived for the 50th anniversary of the first album (“Tintin in the land of the Soviets”, 1929), around real objects which inspired Hergé’s work, had received the author’s visit in person.
The museum highlights Hergé’s visits
“In the spirit of Pairi Daiza, this visit was a kind of validation by the creator that his mummy is indeed the one that inspired him. However, this is not the case,” underlines Serge Lemaître, curator of the Americas collections at MAH.
According to him, the zoo’s mummy was bought by a Belgian collector in the 1960s, well after the publication of “7 crystal balls” in 1948. “And in his first plates published in 1941 in Le Soir, Rascar Capac appears without hair, with very bent knees, like our mummy, “adds this archaeologist.
Serge Lemaitre, curator of the MAH’s Americas collections, in front of the mummy considered by the museum to have inspired Hergé. [John Thys – AFP]
He explains that Hergé lived near the museum and that he came there regularly to the point of bonding with the curator of the time Jean Capart. The latter found himself caricatured as Professor Bergamot in “The 7 crystal balls”.
In the museum windows, continues Mr. Lemaître, the visitor can still find today “a whole bundle of inspirations from which Hergé came to draw”: rag dolls from the Chancay civilization, “portrait vases” in Mochica ceramic and statuettes pre-Columbian, including that which became the emblem of “The Broken Ear”.
Inspired by the Larousse?
Final twist worthy of the adventures of the puff reporter, Philippe Goddin, recognized expert in the work of Hergé joined by AFP, returns back to back the Walloon zoo and the famous Brussels museum.
“We must stop arguing. Hergé looked at many Inca mummies but his first representations of Rascar Capac are based essentially on the (dictionary) Larousse” of the time, explains Mr. Goddin. And this skeleton model, brought back from Peru in the collections of the French explorer Charles Wiener (1851-1913), is today in the musée du quai Branly in Paris, he assures us.
afp / aq