New Light on Ancient Art in Rome
ROME’S museums are many things — world-class, historic, awe-inspiring — but one thing they often are not is people-friendly, based on the notion that treasures should be seen but not experienced.
That’s why a promotional campaign recently begun by the Palazzo Massimo, part of the National Museum of Rome, is so unusual. As the banners draping the museum’s perimeter exclaim, it’s time to “Discover the Massimo.”
This impressive collection of ancient art is being revamped in honor of the museum’s 10th anniversary as a separate institution, and officials don’t want those changes to go unnoticed by the public at large. “We want people to come, and to come back,” the museum’s director, Rita Paris, said recently. “We want people to know that the Massimo belongs to everyone.”
For the anniversary show, the museum tinkered with several showcase exhibits — including the so-called Portonaccio sarcophagus (after the Roman site where it was found), considered to be a masterpiece of second-century Roman sculpture, and the first century B.C. frescoes depicting a garden from the Villa of Livia, the wife of Augustus — to place them in a better light. In the case of the frescoes, a new lighting system was installed that recreates the sun’s dawn-to-dusk nuances.
“It’s rather nifty to watch,” said Carlo Celia, one architect who worked on the project. And it’s an improvement over the previous lighting, which tended to flatten the frescoes. A temporary exhibition of frescoes from the Tomb of Patron, a first-century B.C. Greek doctor buried near the Appian Way, also has a garden theme. The frescoes are on loan from the Louvre in Paris and will remain at the Massimo until June 7.
Artifacts from the museum’s deposits have also been dusted off (well, carefully restored), to renew the galleries. Archaeologists and restorers have in part recreated a first-century columbarium, or burial chamber for cinerary urns, using frescoes excavated between 1838 and 1922 in the Villa Doria Pamphili, the city’s largest park.
Few extant columbariums are visible, and the frescoes provide a unique occasion to get a sense of the “serenity, abundance and even fun,” of ancient Roman funerary art, Ms. Paris said. Eventually, these frescoes will be installed in another branch of the museum at Diocletian’s Baths, across the street.
“We wanted to launch a message, give the idea of the museum as something dynamic and alive,” Ms. Paris said of these initiatives, which will formally end on June 7 but are part of a continuing renewal of the galleries. “The idea was, what can I do to bring people to the museum and let them have fun.”
The fun part includes wine tastings every Saturday until March 21 (on a rotating basis at three National Roman Museum sites). These are geared toward families, because as parents drink up, children between 5 and 10 years old can take part in art workshops.Tickets cost 15 euros, or $20, at $1.34 to the euro, plus the cost of the museum admission, and they can be booked online at www.pierreci.it. For information, see the city of Rome’s tourism site (www.romaturismo.com) because the museum Web site, archeoroma.beniculturali.it/it/palazzo_massimo, is Italian-only.