The National Roman Museum: the Diocletian Baths, Rome

(click on photo to enlarge)

Il Museo Nazionale Romano: Terme di Diocleziano

The National Roman Museum, an institute of the Italian Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali (Direzione generale per le antichità) ) Soprintendenza Speciale per I Beni Archeologici di Roma, is structured on four sites: the Baths of Diocletian, Palazzo Massimo, Crypta Baldi, and Palazzo Altemps.

The Baths of Diocletian was the most imposing thermal complex ever built in Rome (from 298 to 306 CE) and could accommodate up to 3000 people. In 1561, Pope Pius IV granted the remains of the Baths to the Carthusian monks, appointing them as conservators of the ruins.

Michelangelo converted some of the structures into the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels and the Christian Martyrs and he conceived the planning of the Carthusian Monastery and Cloister that now stands on the site.

The Baths and the Charterhouse was the original seat of the Museo Nazionale Romano when instituted in 1889.

fountain at the museum entrance

fountain at the museum entrance

 

bird's eye view of the Cloister

bird’s eye view of the Cloister

some of the giant animal heads in the center of the garden

some of the giant animal heads in the center of the garden

Today the Monastery hosts a major ‘epigraphic’ collection (texts – mostly in Latin – on plaques and statuary) and an exhibition of ‘protohistoric’ artifacts (works produced in ancient Latium, from the 11th to the early 6th century BCE) while the Cloister displays sculptures, sarcophagi, altars as well as bases of statues of the Imperial age.

Two additional exhibition areas have been set up: the garden area in front of the museum entrance, which displays mostly architectural elements from buildings of the Imperial Rome, and several adjacent rooms of the original Baths (which include the Aula Decima) where additional artifacts of the period are displayed.

one of the cloister arcades

one of the cloister arcades

the "Aula Decima", one of the Bath structure used as museum space

the “Aula Decima”, one of the Bath structure used as museum space

another large Bath room, hosting mosaics

another large Bath room, hosting mosaics

Although most museums in Rome are hosted in old and grand buildings, thus providing a fascinating setting for displaying ancient artworks, the Diocletian Bath and Charterhouse setting is certainly the grandest of them all.

In fact, the setting is so special that for many visitors it redeems the shortcomings of the collections exhibited.

It should be pointed out that the museum’s fee of seven euro, valid for three days in all four venues of the Museo Nazionale Romano, helps to absolve the institution for not succeeding in making this site the spectacular museum it deserves to be.

However, this review is about the museum and not the gardens of delights and follies, so we’ll address some of the characteristics and problems found visiting it.

The leveling of city buildings ruined by natural or man made events to allow new buildings to be erected has been going on in Rome for the roughly twenty-five centuries of its uninterrupted settlement.

the Charterhouse interior converted to museum space

the Charterhouse interior converted to museum space

Today, any form of digging, anywhere in the city, is an archaeological matter more than a construction activity. The countless archaeological finds that surface every day, most of “only” historical value but some of great cultural and artistic value, require to be cataloged, stored and assessed so as to contribute to the study of ancient Rome.

from the  Cloister, a frieze of a centaur and its rider

from the Cloister, a frieze of a centaur and its rider

the relief of a Gryphon

the relief of a Gryphon

a sphinx.   IIId c. CE

a sphinx. IIId c. CE

a large, spectacular floor mosaic of Medusa

a large, spectacular floor mosaic of Medusa

in the sun, perhaps a Dios Kuroi

in the sun, perhaps a Dios Kuroi

a drunk Dionysus.  Ist. c. CE

a drunk Dionysus. Ist. c. CE

a beautiful torso

a beautiful torso

a male torso

a male torso

a nude male.   Ist. c. CE

a nude male. Ist. c. CE

a torso perhaps in the style of of Aphrodite Pudica.   Imperial Rome

a torso perhaps in the style of of Aphrodite Pudica. Imperial Rome

a veiled female

a veiled female

head of a youth

head of a youth

a terracotta bust of Demetra.  IVth. c. BCE

a terracotta bust of Demetra. IVth. c. BCE

a giant theatre mask

a giant theatre mask

an early christian inscription IIId. c. CE

an early christian inscription IIId. c. CE

Mitraic relief.    IIId. c. CE

Mitraic relief. IIId. c. CE

from the IVth. c. CE. A gilded  idol of uncertain origin

from the IVth. c. CE. A gilded idol of uncertain origin

IInd. c. CE.  Cult of Sol Invictus  frieze. Dedicated by a priest of Jupiter Dolichenus

IInd. c. CE. Cult of Sol Invictus frieze. Dedicated by a priest of Jupiter Dolichenus

The fact that Roman museum’s vaults are overflowing with artifacts collected by choice or chance is appreciated entering the front garden of the Diocletian Bath museum. The landscape of bits and pieces of graying and greening marble artifacts, neatly arranged on the gravel or leaning against the Bath walls, attests to the lack of display space (if indeed display would be required for it all). To the visitor, the sight is both intriguing and disheartening; the weathering of this fine ‘garden décor’ cannot be dissociated from a perception of carelessness for artworks.

Having entered the main structure, the visitor is directed, via a ‘tunnel’ of softly lit statuary, to the back of the building where the Cloister opens up.  The large garden surrounded by the square portico is sheer magnificence. The garden hosts another collection of graying architectural pieces (which includes several spectacular giant heads of animals) while the four columned cloister legs host hundreds of marble items, of various size and integrity.

Although a slow walk in the portico affords the scrutiny of these works, many of which are really beautiful even in their incomplete or damaged condition, the open air or the light seems to interfere with the aesthetic appreciation. The resulting perception is that of being presented with a collection of “found objects” whose relevance is mostly their origin in the layers of roman soil.

Re-entering the Charterhouse the visitor is welcomed by a modern museum setting where artworks are well displayed in what appears to be thematic groupings.

A large number of works, displayed to focus on their epigraphic aspects (to the delight of history students), has indeed a striking setup on walls and glass cases.

While a group of works focuses on aspect of religious cults in Imperial Rome, another one deals with the practices of burial and it presents plaques, urns, altars and sarcophagi. This last grouping appears to include the many sarcophagi seen other parts of the museum.

While the labeling and annotation of displayed work appears quite adequate, that of the groups could be perhaps more specific and documented.

At this point, leaving the Charterhouse for the annexed ‘Aula Decima’ in the Bath area is an appropriate choice because the amazingly large spaces provide a rest from crowded displays and allow the enjoyment of large marbles and burial structures set in the untouched bath architecture.

a simple cinerary urn

a simple cinerary urn

an archivist  funerary altar dedicated by his wife and a slave. IId. c. CE.

an archivist funerary altar dedicated by his wife and a slave. IId. c. CE.

the lid of the sarcophagus of a youth

the lid of the sarcophagus of a youth

a simple sarcophagus

a simple sarcophagus

sarcophagus of a woman. IIId. c. CE.

sarcophagus of a woman. IIId. c. CE.

the sarcophagus of a male

the sarcophagus of a male

depiction of the Labours of Hercules on a sarcophagus

depiction of the Labours of Hercules on a sarcophagus

detail of a sarcophagus front showing Ariadne and Dionisyus.  IId. c. CE

detail of a sarcophagus front showing Ariadne and Dionisyus. IId. c. CE

more storytelling on the front of a sarcophagus

more storytelling on the front of a sarcophagus

The last display in the Charterhouse is reserved for roman protohistory, a collection of archaeological yields from the bottom layer of the roman soil and from excavations in adjacent territories. Here the anthropological perspective provided helps in the understanding of early Latin settlements.

While visit to the complex is undoubtedly rather pleasing and the scrutiny of the many fine artworks contained is quite challenging, upon leaving the museum, one is left with a sense of institutional missed opportunity.  Fortunately, these exceptional architectural structures and their content of ancient artworks are so well preserved that institutional improvements enhancing their synergy can be envisioned in the future.

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The National Roman Museum: Palazzo Massimo, Rome

Il Museo Nazionale Romano: Palazzo Massimo alle Terme

The National Roman Museum, another institute of the Italian Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali (Direzione generale per le antichità) ) Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma, is structured on four sites: Palazzo Massimo, the Baths of Diocletian, Crypta Baldi, and Palazzo Altemps.

Palazzo Massimo is a Neo-Renaissance style nineteenth-century palace close to the Termini train station and it houses one of the world’s most important collections of Classical art.

On the four floors of the museum, sculptures, frescoes and mosaics, coins and jewels document the evolution of the Roman artistic culture from the 2nd c. BCE (late Republican age) through the 5th c. CE.  These seven hundred years of roman history encompass the rise and fall of that civilization and archeological finds representative of the highest roman artistic production throughout that period are exhibited here with a marked emphasis on their aesthetic character rather than their historical referent.

Captive audience

The Hermaphrodite and a captive audience

 

ground floor room

ground floor room

 

still on the ground floor

still on the ground floor

 

Room 6 first floor

Room 6 first floor

 

Room 5 first floor

Room 5 first floor

 

a heavenly room

a heavenly room

 

the disc thrower (detail)

the disc thrower (detail)

Moving from room to room the visitor is exposed – without discontinuity – to amazing classical artworks, in a progression that makes the head spin. The most important pieces are displayed with a generous individual description that contextualizes them historically and artistically, the interconnection amongst the many pieces is, however unavoidably, less incisive and assigned to display techniques (grouping) or descriptive panels.

The museum managed to implement notable exhibition techniques, the clean and elegant displays avoid the usual “room crowding” and interference from the palace settings, only the artwork ‘tags’ sometime seems too short and cryptic.

The palace layout is based on a cloister structure where the galleries are glass enclosed and connected to an outer ring of main rooms.  Three floors (and a basement) of galleries and rooms are utilized as exhibition areas and they enables a truly grand cultural experience, whose enjoyment would be further enhanced by even a base knowledge of roman art and history.

Niobes' daughter

Niobes’ daughter

 

Aphrodite of Menophantos 1 c. BCE

Aphrodite of Menophantos 1 c. BCE (detail)

 

a young woman

a young woman

 

Youth dressed as Arthemis  70 CE

Youth dressed as Arthemis 70 CE

Amongst the sculptural masterpieces exhibited on the ground and first floor we find the Boxer at Rest, the Lancellotti Discobolus the Hermaphroditus Asleep, the Maiden of Antium, the Dying Niobid and the Bronze Dyonisus. These pieces clearly address the appropriation and imitation of the Greek sculptural models by a roman society whose emancipation was progressing with its economic and political growth.

Among the portraits of the emperors in display, some in particular stand out: the statue of Augustus as Pontifex Maximus, the portraits of princes and princesses of the Julio-Claudian and Flavian dynasties, the head of Hadrian, the statue of Antoninus Pius, the bust of Septimius Severus.

These floors include amazing and important works like the Sarcophagus of Portonaccio, where Romans and Barbarians are represented in battle, and the bronze sculptures that decorated Caligula’s ships found at the bottom of the small Nemi lake.

On the second floor of the museum are exhibited important two dimensional artworks: frescoes, mosaics and stone inlaid works. The ‘painted garden’ frescoes from the Villa of Livia’s dining room (triclinium) and those from several rooms of Villa of the Farnesina are all installed in accurately reconstructed rooms and allow a unique appreciation of prestigious roman dwellings. Pavement mosaics, mostly polychrome and displayed on walls, provide further evidence of roman ‘home decoration’ in grand style.

 

 

The basement of the palace has two sections, a large Numismatic Section and a sort of ethnographic display. While the coin collections and the priceless insignia of a Roman emperor (standard-bearer spearheads, parade lances and sceptres) have a great historical value, the displays of various objects used in everyday life are somewhat limited in scope and not on the same level as the rest of the museum collections. Many of these objects were found in graves, like the very beautiful goldsmith’s items part of a female funerary trousseaux, the unusual statuettes in amber and pupae (dolls) or the fascinating hairpins and delicate golden reticulae (hairnets).

The prince bronze

Hellenistic Prince 2nd c. BCE

 

 

Augustus as Pontefix Maximum 20 CE

Augustus as Pontefix Maximum 20 CE

 

Antoninus Pius found in Terracina

Antoninus Pius found in Terracina

 

Head of Emperor Hadrian

Head of Emperor Hadrian

 

male head

head of Nerva the 12th Emperor 

roman coiffure...

head of Domitia (Flavian Era)

 

beauty

“young female” head 2nd c. CE

 

The Pontonaccio sarcophagus

The Pontonaccio sarcophagus

 

the Pontonaccio Sarcophagus (detail)

the Pontonaccio Sarcophagus (detail)

 

Medusa head, part of the Caligula boat from the Nami lake

Medusa head, part of the Caligula boat from the Nami lake

 

frescoes from villa Farnesina

frescoes from villa Farnesina

 

a precious mosaic

representation of a season  3d c. CE

 

a doll

roman doll 2nd c. CE

 

gold roman coin

gold roman coin

 

 

 

Concluding this brief review of the museum we cannot avoid a consideration on its context. Rome has now several major institutions that exhibit artifact from the Italian antiquity (let’s say from approx. the 7th c. BCE to the 5th c. CE) primarily, but not exclusively, Etruscan and Roman archaeological finds; these huge inventory of items ranging from sublime classical works to crafted items of everyday use, if properly exhibited, would enables the visitor to gain a great deal of insight and knowledge on the old italic civilization. While Palazzo Massimo’s collection can be certainly considered important and referential, the visitor is not guided toward an appreciation of the relationship that these artifacts (and their exhibition) have with other important museums in the city. The issue of contextualization is raised here because the lack of some degree of integration (or at least coordination) amongst museums in the city affects the more important institutions even more than the lesser ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REFERENCES:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Museum_of_Rome

http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museo_nazionale_romano_di_palazzo_Massimo

http://archeoroma.beniculturali.it/musei/museo-nazionale-romano-palazzo-massimo

http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museo_nazionale_romano

http://www.romeguide.it/palazzomassimo/palazzomassimoalleterme.htm

http://archeoroma.beniculturali.it/en/national-roman-museum-palazzo-massimo-alle-terme/paintings-and-mosaics

http://www.usp.br/iac/iac_img.html

http://unsardoingiro.blogspot.it/2012/09/palazzo-massimo-roma.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOURZyYr8LI

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The National Archaeological Museum and Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia , Palestrina, Roma

Museo Archeologico Nazionale e Santuario della Fortuna Primigenia, Palestrina, Roma

One of the most interesting characteristics of many Italian buildings is the fact that their structures are the results of many centuries of building and rebuilding.  In Rome we can find this characteristic associated with many churches: an initial structure, often erected before the Christian era and altered (in shape and function) a few times throughout the Roman period, eventually becomes an early Christian church whose subsequent structural modifications – both minor and major – will be associated with the main cultural phases experienced by the city.

This type of building has a structure akin to that of an “onion”, where the separate layers reveal a couple of millennia of structures and materials.

In Rome we can read the long history of many such buildings on panels posted by their entrances. These descriptions and accompanying drawings make up a fascinating reading and in some case the ‘historical layers’ described can also be partially seen through “archaeological windows” that restorers and archeologists have installed on walls and floors of the building to show the embedded structures. Churches aside, perhaps the best known building in the city whose interior has been stripped to reveal, in full, the historical layers composing the structures erected at various times, (beginning from the 13 century BCE) is the Crypta Balbi. This rather unassuming late renaissance building in the center of Rome (now one of the four National Museums of Rome) provides an amazing educational telltale of the city’s history.

This long note is intended to introduce the spellbinding Palestrina’s Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia and Palazzo Barberini, now an archaeological museum (under the ‘Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici’ of the ‘Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo’, ‘Direzione Regionale per i Beni Culturali e Paesaggistici del Lazio’).

The Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia in Praeneste (Palestrina)

The Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia in Praeneste (Palestrina)

In 1640 the family Barberini made the last modifications to the building we can see today atop the Palestrina’s skyline. The building had been previously reconstructed (ca. 1500) by the Colonna family after it had been heavily damaged by the Pope’s troops.

Front view of the Barberini -Colonna Palace

Front view of the Barberini -Colonna Palace

 

Museum entrance (left)

Museum entrance (left)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the Fortuna's well

the Fortuna’s well

 

In the XI century the Colonna’s had built their fortress on top of the decayed structure of the roman Fortuna Primigenia. The colossal Hellenistic Sanctuary had been erected during the IInd cent. BCE in Praeneste on a site inhabited since the IV century.

A set of fortuitous circumstances enabled the Barberini structure to remain intact until the present and to allow the archaeological recovery of the Sanctuary in all its massive structure. The palace restoration work, with the exposure of large portions of the Sanctuary’s structures,  was completed quite recently and it lead to the use of the XVIth century building as a museum structure. Further archaeological activities allowed the recovery and exposure of large sections of the sanctuary. Although the very large size of the sanctuary and its location on a the steep slope of a hill unfortunately prevent the complete appreciation of the exposed temple (a favorable vantage point would be a low altitude aerial view) we can view the reconstructed Sanctuary model in the museum and gain a sense of the complex original structure.

One of the museum rooms with floor "archaeological windows"  showing roman column pedestals

One of the museum rooms with floor “archaeological windows” showing roman column pedestals

The museum today exhibits some of the material recovered during excavations in situ and in the area around the old Praeneste, a very important commercial post in roman times and now a quiet town a few miles south-east of Rome.

bronzes from the lid of a "cista"

bronzes from the lid of a “cista”

 

a "cista" bronze lid handle

a “cista” bronze lid handle

 

The restored Barberini palace has been masterly arranged to provide a full sense of the original roman structure upon which it is built, as well as to exhibit the museum artifacts.

The museum collection is relatively small but very interesting.

Several large mosaics are in display and one, called “The Nile” and recovered from a floor of the sanctuary, is very large, amazingly complex and it constitutes an extraordinary historical record. Although restored and somewhat rebuilt a few times, its depiction of the flooded Nile is fantastic.

The Nile mosaic

The Nile mosaic

 

The Nile mosaic (detail)

The Nile mosaic (detail)

 

the Fortuna goddess

the Fortuna goddess

Of the many items recovered from various necropolises, from terracotta votive objects to bronze items, some of the bronze “cista” figurines are truly exquisite (and perhaps deserving of a display that enhances rather than hide their beauty).

a most gracious sculpture

a most gracious sculpture

From the tombs of the nearby necropolises (dating as early as the VIth cent. BCE) the archaeologists recovered many very interesting architectural elements, now assembled and exhibited in the museum.

Even though some sculptures are recovered much damaged, it is intriguing how they can still fascinate the visitor when properly displayed.

Upon reaching the room of the Sanctuary’s goddess, we can see that even pieces of the larger than life size “Fortuna Primigenia” provide a clear sense of the imposing sight the statue must have had two thousand years ago. The grace and sensuality of several other smaller Fortuna sculptures in display capture the viewer’s imagination regardless of their state of completeness.

 

parts of the main  Fortuna Primigenia sculpture

parts of the main Fortuna Primigenia sculpture

a sarcophagus lid

a sarcophagus lid

 

funerary architectural elements from various necropolises

funerary architectural elements from various necropolises

 

DSC_3644 (396x600)It is very unfortunate that this special museum is not well attended, it is perhaps confused with the many small town museums found everywhere in Italy. The Sanctuary is an incredible archaeological site and the museum hosts amazing artworks, it most certainly deserves to be more adequately promoted to attract the attentions of all type of visitors.DSC_3634 (598x800)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

http://www.archeolz.arti.beniculturali.it/

http://www.beniculturali.it/mibac/opencms/MiBAC/sito-MiBAC/MenuPrincipale/LuoghiDellaCultura/Ricerca/index.html?action=show&idluogo=20307

http://www.archeolz.arti.beniculturali.it/index.php?it/186/museo-archeologico-nazionale-prenestino-e-santuario-della-fortuna-primigenia

http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santuario_della_Fortuna_Primigenia

http://www.romeartlover.it/Palestrina2.html

http://www.thaliatook.com/OGOD/primigenia.html

http://www.romanoimpero.com/2010/05/culto-di-fortuna-tiche.html

http://books.google.it/books?id=SCt-0oIkOmIC&pg=PA165&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

http://books.google.it/books?id=mgvT5bKcSeoC&pg=PA18&lpg=PA18&dq=museo+nazionale+di+palestrina&source=bl&ots=1yGxli69ap&sig=Sf73HXB3gE7WK8brbti-4s0fjrk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=xr5vUua5JIjD7Abjy4HgAw&ved=0CGYQ6AEwBjgK#v=onepage&q=museo%20nazionale%20di%20palestrina&f=false

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The Palace of Museums, Reggio Emilia’s Town Museums.

Il Palazzo dei Musei, Musei Civici di Reggio Emilia

Reggio Emilia’s Town Museums have been hosted in the San Francesco Palace since 1830. The two floors of the palace host several Ethnographic and Natural History collections, Archaeological collections and an Art Gallery.

I am particularly attached to this museum because I started visiting it when I was about five years old and in my teens my summer work was to take photos of items for record purpose.

The massive amount of items in the various collections are displayed in XIXth century glass cases and presented according to the taste of the time.

starfish on stand

starfish on stand

The oldest collection of the museum is a 1770 gathering of items of “natural productions” by L. Spallanzani, still exhibited in its original cases, organized as per Linnean taxonomy.

Corals and sponges cabinet

Corals and sponges cabinet

 

The natural history portion of the museum is very interesting because we gain insight in the XIXth c. collection practices and studies in the animal and plant kingdoms, in minerals and fossils. Here we find special, and truly amazing, collections addressing anatomy (human and animal), teratology (the study of abnormalities) and zoology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preservation under formaldehyde

Preservation under formaldehyde

 

small skeleton

small skeleton

anatomy three centuries ago

anatomy three centuries ago

While the teratology exhibit is rather horrifying (but loved by kids like me…), the zoology exhibit takes the crown with the large mammal’s heads – hunting trophies of the pasts – hanging over the display cases while incredible ‘tableaux vivants’ of hunting animals populate the corridors where mummified whales, crocodiles etc. are sharing the floor with visitors.

from the teratology section

from the teratology section

 

tableaux vivants: Africa

tableaux vivants: Africa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though these sections are more akin to a movie set than a contemporary museum display, they do not fail to fascinate visitors of all ages, the only question being for how long they still could be enjoyed.

DSC_2647 (800x536)

zoology

zoology

The museum displays proceed, without solution of continuity, into matters of ethnography involving collections of artifacts from tribes from Asia, Africa, Oceania, and America. These items had been gathered by scientists and explorers (mostly in the XIXth c.) that subsequently donated them to the bulging museum.  These artifacts appear rather delicate and of difficult care and are displayed in semi-darkness, to little benefit of the visitor.

We then enter the antiquity sections of the museum. The initial set up was carried out by G. Chierici in 1862-70 and his expositive approach, still visible today, is of displaying everything at hand, amassing thousands of items in cases whose only purpose seems to be the storage of items following their classification.  A broad grouping in “local” artifacts and “other areas” sums the level of information we can gather here. The sight of the ridiculous crowding of items in the cases is particularly annoying considering the notable artistic and historical value of many artifacts displayed.

antiquities
antiquities

 

thousand items

thousand items

 

The cloister exhibit

The cloister exhibit

 

the second floor archaeology section

the second floor archaeology section

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Large archeological findings are shown in the cloister, now enclosed, where roman and mediaeval marbles are displayed floor to ceiling and in the foyer, where mosaics from the same period greet the visitor to the museum.  One last room at the ground level has more recent findings from the city center.

The museum second floor hosts, since 1975, archaeological items unearthed in the last seventy years. The artifacts, from the paleolithic to the Ist c. BCE, are from local settlements and number some relevant finds like the Etruscan stelae from Rubiera (VIIth c. BCE).

Although the spacious display here is in stark contrast to the ground floor curio display, its outdated design appears even less effective than even the old cabinet downstairs.

The second floor exhibition continues with the collection of frescoes and paintings with a strong connection to the city, produced from the 1300 until now.

The San Francesco Palace has embodied the city’s key cultural functions for almost three centuries and its museum characteristics have become so important as to deserve some kind of preservation (even though the institution appears in dire need of rationalization). A change of curatorial approaches that could bring a segregation of the Archaeological collections from the Art Gallery section while somewhat preserving the old Ethnographic and Natural History collections could be envisioned as beneficial to the overall important endowment.

After many years of providing strictly operational support, the City seems poised to finally initiate a restructuration of the museum but, in a typical Italian way, opposition to the City’s plans have caused everything to be placed on hold. Perhaps it should be visited now….

References:

http://musei.comune.re.it/museo/museire.nsf/Musei/926CFFACCA48EB40C1256ECF0029683C?OpenDocument

http://amicideimuseicivici.blogspot.it/

 

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The National Archaeological Museum of Abruzzo – Villa Frigerj, Chieti

Il Museo Archeologico Nazionale d’ Abruzzo Villa Frigerj.

Chieti, a 60.000 souls city in central Italy, is a pre-roman settlement with legendary roots and today boasts two important archaeological museums. The National Archaeological Museum of Abruzzo “Villa Frigerj”, an institute of the Sovraintendenza per i beni archeologici (from the Direzione Regionale per i beni culturali e paesaggistici dell’ Abruzzo of the Italian Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali), and the “La Civitella”, another Sovraintendenza institute that I will discuss in another post.

Chieti is a small beautiful city but it took several inquiries to find Villa Figerj, when eventually I reached it I was glad to have located it. The 1830 neoclassical villa hides one of Italy’s finest archeological museum.

Il Guerriero di Capestrano early VIth century BCE

Il Guerriero di Capestrano
early VIth century BCE

The amazing early VIth century BCE statue of a warrior from Capestrano (Abruzzo) is the artifact for which the museum is renowned in all of Italy. It is now set in a room with several funerary stone ‘stelae’ (inscribed in a Vth c. BCE language) and the pieces indeed create a strong iconographic installation.

A first floor room

A first floor room

The “Warrior” room is in the ground floor but the exhibition of artifacts that form its context is located on the first floor (a detail not well notified to the visitor…).  Once the first floor is reached, the visitor is treated to a fantastic landscape of fine archaeological findings from various Abruzzo settlements.DSC00136 (800x533)DSC00135 (800x568)

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These ‘pre-roman’ societies, called “Vestini” (trasmontani and cismontani), Peligni, Marrucini and Carricini, are introduced to the visitor by several boards and maps, all well detailed and amazingly instructional. The archeological artifacts are grouped by population and sites and are sensibly documented and so carefully displayed as to truly enhance their appreciation.

Hercules Curino (from Sulmona)

Hercules Curino (from Sulmona)

 

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the coin collection (detail)

the coin collection (detail)

 

The coin mapping

The coin mapping

 

The Pansa collection (detail)

The Pansa collection (detail)

Hercules Epitropezios ~ Ist c. BCE

Hercules Epitropezios
~ Ist c. BCE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The visitor, easily enticed to retrace his/her steps through this ten room exhibition floor, eventually has to descend the grand stairs where, at the ground floor, the exhibition continues. Here in the foyer, the icons of the “roman” legacy in Abruzzo are standing, a bit stiffly, against the walls, while a giant Hercules from the ~ Ist c. BCE is sitting (epitrapezios), without much grace, in a corner of the area.

The ground floor exhibition has two other components, an interesting numismatic collection (IVth c. BCE to XIXth c. AD) which is a jewel of coin display and a collection of quite interesting archeological findings donated by G.Pansa from Sulmona.  The antiquities from the collection are distributed in several display cases but unfortunately only in a few cases crowding is avoided and it is quite obvious that the level of curatorial presentation noted upstairs has not yet addressed these items.

When I left the museum I realized that the satisfaction I felt was not only caused by having enjoyed a little cultural marvel but also by the fact that all I knew about it was its existence (both sentiments likely experienced by other visitors).

References:

http://www.archeoabruzzo.beniculturali.it/manda1.html

http://www.beniarcheologiciabruzzo.it/

http://www.rivistamu6.it/pdf/MU6_16_INSERTO%20CHIETI.pdf

http://www.archeoabruzzo.beniculturali.it/lacivitella.html

 

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The National Roman Museum: The Altemps Palace, Rome

Il Museo Nazionale Romano.  Palazzo Altemps

The National Roman Museum, another institute of the Italian Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali (Direzione generale per le antichità), is structured on four sites: the Baths of Diocletian, the Crypta Baldi, the Palazzo Massimo and the Palazzo Altemps.

Of the four sites, Palazzo Altemps may be the best known to museum goers because of the grand (and controversial) sculptures it hosts. The palace was built in 1477 over old roman and mediaeval structures and owned, from 1568, by Cardinal Altemps. Its recent modernization allowed the hosting of four collections of sculptures in a large portion of the two main floors.

The museum collections have become so well known to now stand for pre-modern “collecting”; some of the works have so become ‘icons’ of roman art.  Of the five collections, four were assembled by privates in the 16th-17th centuries; the last is a more recent gathering of archeological findings.

The Altemps Collection – Four large statues in the northern portico and other sculptures decorating the staircase are all it remain here of the collection of Cardinal Markus Sitticus.

The Ludovisi Boncompagni Collection – The Italian State purchased in 1900 this collection of 104 sculptures.  Amongst them are the Ludovisi Acrolith, the Ludovisi Throne, the Gaul Killing Himself and His Wife and the Grande Ludovisi Sarcophagus.

The Mattei Collection – In a room of the first floor are exhibited some ancient sculptures that originally adorned the villa and gardens of Ciriaco Mattei on the Caelian Hill.

The Drago Collection – Four reliefs from the former Del Drago family collection, known and drawn since the 15th century, are exhibited in the southern loggia.

The Egyptian Collection – The sculptures were found in the area of the Campus Martius where the great Sanctuary dedicated to Isis stood in Roman times. Some of them originated from Egypt and other are Roman production after the Egyptian originals.

The museum source collections were all formed between the 16th and the 17th centuries, when it was fashionable for princes to adorn their palaces and gardens with beautiful ‘old’ things. The “antiquarian” market of the time was the primary source of excavated artifacts and stores would have looked like interesting places with mounds of marble fragments of various sizes from which to pick and choose items. Since large pieces were desirable to fulfill decorating functions but were difficult to find, a peculiar condition began to emerge, the traditional process of “restoration” (applied to clean items and restore minor missing elements) soon was replaced by the complete “refurbishment” of sculptures, a process involving the ‘creation’ of a work made of many unrelated old pieces composed in a new form and molded to appear an ‘original’ old work.

The Altemps gallery of sculptures offers an amazing set of roman artifacts, many of them did undergo minor degrees of restoration (carried out in the past), but a group of them should really be re-attributed to the 16th/17th century sculptor that re-molded large and small archeological fragments in what we see today. It is important to know that these ‘creative’ restorers were not some artisan skilled in stonework, they were important artist of the time, like Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Alessandro Algardi e Ippolito Buzio. Although today such practice would be considered a desecration of antiquities, it appears that at the time not only it was condoned but it was an appreciated artistic expression.

Palazzo Altemps inner court

Palazzo Altemps inner court

There is no doubt that a grand palace can be a suitable display case for ancient large marbles and the Altemps is well suited for this task having many well lit large rooms on two floors, a splendid ‘cortile’ and two beautiful frescoed terraces.

Many of the works find an ideal location (and lighting) in the large rooms but some of them suffer from being installed without some sort of ‘isolating criteria’ that would detach the artwork from the room’s wall decorations and other architectural features.  However, the distribution of the collection components throughout the palace successfully avoids visual crowding.

It seems obvious that the characteristic of the works exposed posed some challenges to the museum curators. Here, the need to carefully inform the viewer of what it is displayed is necessary to avoid misunderstandings. The history and context of the works becomes very relevant not only for their appreciation but for the understanding of the collecting practices of the time.

The use of a standard label that includes a succinct description, a ‘technical’ text and an unqualified drawing (framed notes that appear to have been prepared in the 19th century) may not address the need for adequate information. These particularly important works should not have been left to hold their own, unassisted.

 

An exhibition room

An exhibition room

 

The Ludovisi throne, “Aphrodite rising from the sea".
The Ludovisi throne, “Aphrodite rising from the sea”.

The large marble block has been carved to have three sides and a bottom (hence the “throne” listing). Its period, mid  Vth century BCE, and origin, from Magna Graecia, are still debated.

 

The Ludovisi Gaul Killing Himself and His Wife (detail)

The Ludovisi Gaul Killing Himself and His Wife (detail)

The “The Galatian Suicide”  is a Roman marble group of the Ind century AD, copy of a Hellenistic bronze original (ca 230-20 BCE).

 

Ares Ludovisi  IInd c. AD.  Marble ‘pentelico’, H 156 cm

Ares Ludovisi
IInd c. AD. Marble ‘pentelico’, H 156 cm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “Resting Mars” statue still has  interpretation issues (possibly a 2nd-century copy of a late 4th-century BCE Greek original), but its stunning beauty is indisputed. The marble was recovered almost complete and the the (interpretative) repair was conducted by Bernini.

 

The Dadoforo

The Dadoforo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sculpture of the “torch bearer” is a 17th century A. Algardi’s creation, made by adding to an ancient bust and upper legs marble (likely a copy of a IIId c. BCE satyr) the arms, torch, legs and stand.

 

A large room

A large room

 

 

Sarcofago Grande Ludovisi Middle of IIId c. AD. Italian marble, 153×273×137 cm

Sarcofago Grande Ludovisi
Middle of IIId c. AD. Italian marble, 153×273×137 cm

il grande sarcofago (detail)

il grande sarcofago (detail)

This stunning piece is a sarcophagus depicting Erennio Etrusco, son of Decio emperor, death in battle in 251 against the Goth. The three rows of high reliefs show the victorious Roman soldiers (top), the battle between Roman and barbarian (middle) and wounded or death enemies (bottom register).

 

 Cupid and Psyche (detail)


Cupid and Psyche (detail)

 

Cupid and Psyche.  Boncompagni Ludovisi Collection Inv. 8567  Medium-grained crystalline marble for the ancient parts, Carrara marble for the restorations.

Cupid and Psyche. Boncompagni Ludovisi Collection Inv. 8567 Medium-grained crystalline marble for the ancient parts, Carrara marble for the restorations.

I choose to investigate this piece because of its amazing character.  From the museum label we read:

“This pair could be considered an original creation by the 17th century restorer Ippolito Buzio, who worked on the restorations of the Ludovisi Collection from 1621 to 1624. Inspired by the famous Hellenistic sculptural group of Cupid and Psyche, the sculptor fashioned his own version by assembling together various fragments of ancient marble statues.

The bow in the hand of the male figure and the quiver resting on the base both derive from classical iconography.  For the figure of Psyche is reused an ancient head,  perhaps from an Apollo, while her bust once belonged to a male figure but was transformed by the addition of a breast. The lower part of the figure was made in the 17th century.

Cupid and Psyche, restoration details(?)

Cupid and Psyche, restoration details(?)

For the figure of Cupid, the sculptor inserted in the ancient male torso a female head, of the so-called Sappho-type, her hair drawn into a chignon braided together with ribbons in the form of a cap.

Buzio’s work is a highly representative example of Baroque taste, intended to inspire the admiration of the spectacle through ambiguity and the reversal of masculine and feminine roles.”

This (rather unclear) label however is accompanied by a drawing showing (see attached) an outlay of the sculpture with gray areas which do not match the areas described as modified by the restorer.

 

A further investigation brings to light, from the “History of Restoration of Ancient Stone Sculptures” book [ref. 1], p. 228, one Fig 2A-B very similar to that of the museum label and that reads:

“Statue group of Salmacis and Hermaphroditos(?). Restored by Ippolito Buzzi(?). Marble H132 cm. Sketch: Peggy Sanders; modern portions shaded dark grey, ancient but unrelated areas light grey.”

Without suggesting a discrepancy in attribution between museum label and the M. Marvin’s text, I quote here a passage that is perhaps a more subtle (and less equivocal) description  “…The ancient pieces were four, two male torsos and two unrelated heads, one female and one uncertain. Buzzi added a head, breasts, and a draped female lower half to one male torso, making it Salmacis; and lower legs, arms and a head to the other, making it Hermaphroditos. He then composed the figures as a group and attached them to a single base. …”

This note on Cupid and Psyche tries to qualify the previous indication that clear information on the history and context of the work is very relevant for its appreciation and understanding.

 

Zeus

Zeus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A visit to this world class museum is a most fascinating experience, an insight in classical, western aesthetics.

 

the museum stairwell

the museum stairwell

 

References:

(1) History of Restoration of Ancient Stone Sculptures  edited by Janet Burnett Grossman, Jerry Podany, Marion True; Getty Publications, 2003

B.PALMA, Museo Nazionale Romano. Le Sculture. I Marmi Ludovisi: Storia della Collezione Ludovisi, I,4, Roma 1983

http://scuola.zanichelli.it/online/ilcriccoditeodoro/files/2010/05/it-museali04.pdf

http://archeoroma.beniculturali.it/en/museums/national-roman-museum-palazzo-altemps

http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museo_nazionale_romano_di_palazzo_Altemps

http://www.ilquintocielo.it/Doc/Altemps.pdf

http://www.vediromainbici.it/Storico/2012%20Schede/2012.02.18%20Palazzo%20Altemps.pdf

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Roman_copies_after_Greek_originals_in_the_Palazzo_Altemps_(Rome)

 

 

 

 

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National Museum of Oriental Art, Rome

Museo Nazionale d’ Arte Orientale “G. Tucci”   

museum entrance

museum entrance

The museum is located in the Palazzo Brancaccio and is an institute of the Italian Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali (Direzione generale per le antichità).

The institute exhibits artifacts produced by various Asian populations within a timeframe ranging from the Neolithic (~6000 BCE) to the last century. The sources of these items are findings from archeological excavation and donations from private collections.  Many of the artifacts exhibited are of relevant historical value; many others are of exquisite artistic value as well.

The museum displays these items, identified as “Oriental” artifacts (perhaps to distinguish them from those of “Western” origins), by grouping them according to some historical and/or cultural criteria and linking those groups through a geographic mapping. The result is an exhibition floor map composed of fifteen rooms where the objects presented satisfy seven thematic approaches. The list of rooms is: Ist, IInd and IIId: Ancient Near and Middle East; IVth: Art and Archeology from Islam; Vth and VIIIth: Gandhara; VIth: Tibet and Nepal; VIIth, XIth to XVth: China and Japan; IXth: India; Xth: Korea. Three additional rooms are available for special exhibitions.

The works from this broad geographic area and very long historical period belong to some of the populations whose civilizations formed, evolved and in most cases disappeared in Asia during eight millennia. The display of these artifacts in an effective and understandable manner constitutes a challenge; failure to meet this challenge would let visitors down. This is a synoptic view of the exhibits.

Room I

Room I

Rooms I, II, III. Pottery, bronzes, precious metals and semiprecious stones (6000 BCE to 600 AD) from ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean area, the Iranian Plateau and Central Asia are presented in overcrowded, poorly lit display cases where items are also badly referenced. Since very few visitors could muster the knowledge of history and culture that would allow the unmediated appreciation of the items exposed, the price for the poor educational support material is their very rapid exit from these rooms. Unfortunately, some of the artifacts exposed are of remarkable interest.

Iranian pottery Vth – IVth millennium BCE

Iranian pottery Vth – IVth millennium BCE

 

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gold cup

gold cup

Room IV. Important ceramics, mainly from Iran, ranging from the Protoislamic to the Qajar period (VIIIth to XIXth cent.), various metal and glass artifacts as well as architectural findings from Mas’ud III palace at Ghazni (Afghanistan, XIIth cent.) are shown in this room.  It is a display of pieces whose aesthetic value becomes the main level of appreciation. Without a proper historical or cultural reference their enjoyment and not their understanding is all the visitor will take home.

Room IV

Room IV

 

 

 

Funerary relief, limestone, Palmira, Siria, IIId c. AD

Funerary relief, limestone, Palmira, Siria, IIId c. AD

 

Bowl, Mina’ painted ceramic XII-XIIIth cent. AD, Iran

Bowl, Mina’ painted ceramic XII-XIIIth cent. AD, Iran

 

 

 

Room V and VIII. An important Italian archaeological mission in the Swat Valley (Northwestern Pakistan, Butkara and Saidu Sharif area), initially led by G. Tucci, studied several Gandhara sites and some of those findings were accessioned under agreement with the Government of Pakistan.  The two rooms have in display exceptionally important and beautiful findings; unfortunately, only scholars and specialized students can likely appreciate their historical, religious and cultural value. Here, in semi-obscurity, we can barely ‘see’ the items placed on display and there is little sensibility or contextualization.

 

Gandhara

Gandhara

 

Gandahara

Gandahara

Room VI. Religious artifacts ranging from handscroll paintings on cloth, metal and wooden statues and cretulae (seal impressions) are displayed in small and large cabinets. These items belong to the museum’s large and very important collection of Tibetan art, mostly acquired by G Tucci. If the display of historical findings may be challenging, the exhibition of esoteric material is even more difficult.  But it should be at least attempted… not ignored. Here the assumption seems to be that only scholars could approach an understanding of these artifacts.

Dancing goddesses, Tibet or Nepal, XVIIIth cent. AD.

Dancing goddesses, Tibet or Nepal, XVIIIth cent. AD.

 

 

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Room VII and X to XV. The museum has a world class collection of artifacts from the Far East (China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam) and the items exhibited provide the viewer with a

Archaic Japan

Archaic Japan

sweeping panorama of the far east cultures from 4000 BCE to the last century.

The Japanese culture is represented with Jomon, Yayoi and Kofun period artifacts (2500 BCE to 500 AD) and calligraphy scrolls and ukiyo-e from the  XVIIth to XIXth century.

A Korean display

A Korean display

 

 

 

 

Koryo and Choson dynasties kiln production (XIIth and XVIth cent.) and some other earlier artifacts make up the Korean exhibit.

The exhibition of remarkable Chinese bronzes (ritual vases, arms and harness, XIIIth to VIIIth cent. BCE) is supplemented by important old statues, glazed stoneware (IInd cent. BCE – VIth cent AD) Tang, Ming and Qing porcelains and ancient jades.

Archaic Chinese bronzes

Archaic Chinese bronzes

A group of very rare glazed ceramics from Northern Vietnam (XIth to XVIth cent. AD) are also exhibited in these rooms.

Chinese Tang dynasty ceramics

Chinese Tang dynasty ceramics

 

 

 

 

 

Even taking into consideration the difficulties presented by exhibiting inside an old, ornate, palace, the clumsy display of the Far East artifacts is hardly justifiable, and further compounded by the peculiar lack of contextualization.

Guanyin, painted wood with traces of gold guilding, c.12th century, China

Guanyin, painted wood with traces of gold guilding, c.12th century, China

Room IX. The Indian artworks exhibited are bronzes and stone statuary from the Ist to the XIXth century with many works from the VIIth to XIIIth cent. AD.  All the works are important cultural artifacts from a civilization whose history and religion are not quite common knowledge in the West.  DSC_2794 (489x800)It is a pity that the museum was unable to step up to the task of displaying then with proper means of information and education. Most western viewers back off from these treasures because they cannot understand the meaning, or value, of these artifacts.

 

 

The previous notes addressed the exhibition content and some of its methods. It can be concluded that while the displayed artifacts are of high cultural value (certainly of international relevance), several of the display conditions do not meet an equivalent standard.

A few observations: (i) the “parabolic” display cases, in particular, perform extremely poorly in terms of lighting and reflection, of item enhancement and of level display; (ii) the item supporting documentation, when included, has the value of an archival catalogue note; (iii) the contextualization of display case(s) is dismally lacking. Even though a couple of pages of general notes are available for each thematic approach, a far more extensive (and friendly) level of documentation should have been provided to assist the visitor interested in understanding what s/he’s marvelling at and why.

a typical display case

a typical display case

In conclusion, even though technical improvements would be desirable, the educational and presentation elements of the display would benefit from a systematic improvement.

A museum with such a broad investigative scope must of necessity be set up to handle donated collections, operational acquisitions, and accessions from archeological missions, thus facing difficulties in complying with practices of historical and/or cultural completeness. However, the curatorial efforts in delivering a good exhibition of artifacts should be, at least, commensurate with the relevance of the item involved, regardless of the extent of the exhibition.

Palazzao Brancaccio

Palazzao Brancaccio

 

References:

http://www.museorientale.beniculturali.it/index.php?it/134/il-percorso-nelle-sale-del-museo

http://www.kunstpedia.com/blogs/asia-discovered-in-rome.html

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National Museum of the Early Middle Ages, Rome

Il Museo Nazionale dell’Alto Medioevo. 

The museum exhibits artefacts from the late IVth century AD to about the XIth, all recovered from several Italian archeological sites. This historical period, vaguely identified as ‘the dark ages’, is little known and in need of museums that would contribute to its understanding.

A stunning Lombard fibula (broock)

A stunning Lombard fibula (brooch)

What we find on view here is a collection of artifacts recovered from a Lombard (VIth – VIIth cent. AD) and a Carolingian (IXth  – Xth cent. AD) settlement from two sites on the Italian peninsula and assigned to this museum for display.

Some of these small objects are beautifully crafted in metal (steel, silver and gold), glass and stone and are lined up, with terse descriptive tags, on glass shelves. Some larger objects are set on pedestals, or directly on the floor, and placed in another couple of rooms.

Delicate medieval Coptic textile fragments from Africa are also exhibited in an isolated room.

DSC_2486 (1300x782)The ‘Italian” artifacts exhibited include those from some Christian settlements near Rome DSC_2487 (1270x1300) (VIIIth to Xth c. AD) and a late roman (IVth c. AD) room with amazing decorations in ‘opus sectile’. The delicate work in many types of cut stones decorated a building in Ostia Antica (near Rome) and was reconstructed here.italian room (1300x897)

DSC_2490 (1300x825)The museum is located in one of the grand buildings that make up the EUR area of Rome. It is an institute of the Italian Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali (Direzione generale per i beni archeologici) Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma.

The exhibition space is a clean, well lit, a space of typical 60’s design. Several display cabinets contain all the small artifacts, the large ones are distributed on the room floors on pedestals.

Very little information on the pieces displayed is provided to the viewer and even less information is available to explain why they are here and the historical and cultural context of the artifacts.

Even the important ‘opus sectile’ room is not adequately contextualized.

The room in opus sectile from the Porta Marina building in Ostia Antica.

The room in opus sectile from the Porta Marina building in Ostia Antica.

The purpose of the exhibition seems to be the archival display of the “findings” of an archeological campaign, but without the study’s notes.
The disconnection in the cultural specificity of the family of artifacts and the lack of supporting information on the pieces leaves the viewer with the limited enjoyment of a few ‘beautiful’ pieces.  Enough, perhaps, to justify a visit but too little to place this museum in the map of successful “national” cultural endeavors.
The period from the fall of the Roman Empire to the renaissance has perhaps contributed less to the Italian cultural patrimony than those buttressing it; its historical relevance is, however, hardly a minor one. The high number of roman (BCE to the Vth century AD) and of medieval (XIth to XVth century AD) museums in Italy created for a museum specialized in this period the opportunity to bridge the gap by providing needed historical and cultural ties. How successfully this institution met this opportunity is rather questionable.

 

References:

http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museo_nazionale_dell’Alto_Medioevo

http://www.wantedinrome.com/news/2000732/culture-museo-nazionale-dell-alto-medioevo-a-visit-to-the-dark-ages.html

 

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The Ara Pacis museum, Rome

Il Museo dell’ Ara Pacis.

The smallest museum collection in the world may well be the one item “Ara Pacis Augustae”, exhibited in its dedicated building in Rome.

The Ara Pacis Augustae is an altar dedicated to Peace, the Roman goddess. The monument was commissioned by the Roman Senate on 4 July 13 B.C. to honour the return of Augustus to Rome. It was recovered by archaeologists in the late 1930s, and reconstructed on the current site, near the Mausoleum of Augustus, where the architect Vittorio Morpurgo was commissioned by Mussolini to design the altar’s first “housing” in order to celebrate a political vision.

In 2006, the new cover building, designed by the American architect Richard Meier, replaced the previous one. The museum is part of the City of Rome administration and subject to such amazing political interferences that the future of the new building is still in question.

The glass building enables a remarkable view of the altar in natural light as well as its spectacular view, from the outside, at night.

The museum exhibition is supplemented by several panels with educational material and a multimedia room.

 

Ara Pacis

Ara Pacis

 

ara 1

ara 2

Richard Meier's building for the Ara Pacis Augustae

Richard Meier’s building for the Ara Pacis Augustae

In conclusion, the museum offers an unparalleled opportunity to experience in splendid isolation a two thousand year old monumental religious artifact. The Roman archeological context – a world heritage – is greatly enhanced by this contribution.

References: http://cdm.reed.edu/ara-pacis/

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