Saturday, July 24, 2010

Marbles and machines

I had a little bit of a rocky start to my travels today. My plan was to head to Centrale Montemartini, a satellite museum under the auspices of the Capitoline Museums, located in a suburb a bit south of the city, where the marbles are displayed among the machines of an old power station. After a bit of a late morning (the other Americans in the hostel had me up carousing into the wee hours last night), I headed out for what I thought was a fairly simple trip on public transportation. Well, between my inability to read my guidebook's clear instructions and the soul-sucking experience that is the Termini station, it took me about two hours to get to my destination, and I ended up grabbing a quick lunch before I went into the museum. I was greatly rewarded by the collection inside, however.

The experience starts on the ground floor, where remains from the Late Republican period are arranged in a more or less traditional museum setting. The highlight for me was definitely this one:

In Roman art classes, we call this guy the Patrician Carrying Two Portrait Busts, and he appears all over the place as an illustration of Republican portraiture and the concept of portrait busts being used in ceremonial situations, to remember one's ancestors. Generally, the two busts are identified as representing slightly different portrait fashions of the patrician's father and grandfather, while the head of this statue is not original - this head was retrofitted onto the statue by restorers.

And now, I have the detail to prove it:

Clearly, we have two different types of marble here. Here's another detail for the teaching file!

The real experience of Centrale Montemartini is the old machine room, where the visit is as much about appreciating the display as it is about the works themselves:

Neat, huh? This museum began in the mid-20th century, when the Capitoline Museums were looking for a large open space in which to display some of their collection while doing renovations at the main site. The original exhibition was so successful that the Centrale Montemartini site became a permanent location for the display of ancient sculpture. The story here is very much one of museum practices - all museums have to worry about making as much of their collections available to the public as possible, given limited space. For American art, we now have a few Luce Centers that turn visible storage into a type of gallery space.

These cows made me think of the "Myron" cow I posted yesterday:

Maybe Myron inspired these guys, too!

And here's a torso displayed against the backdrop of one of the huge machines:

I really think the fragmentary nature of a lot of these sculptures adds a lot to the aesthetic experience of visiting this museum. The white marble against the dark machines, the ancient with the modern, the incomplete with the complete - one could go on and on in poetic musings.

And I couldn't resist this bust of Antinous:

I like the fact that the Capitoline Museums for the most part make their plaster interventions in restoring a work obvious, rather than trying to integrate them with the marble. Here, you can clearly differentiate between the two materials - much of the chest is plaster.

If you ever doubted that ancient marble sculpture was painted, here's some pretty clear evidence:

The reddish pigment in the hair and the gilding on the face are clearly visible, creating a lovely overall effect.

I love that so many Roman museums seem to like the idea of displaying two copies of the same subject next to one another:

The wall labels for these works are nearly identical - they were even found in more or less the same place. I wonder how they were used.

And finally, I had to watch for the guards and then sneak around a rope barrier down a corridor to snap a quick picture of this work:

We studied this in our Roman sculpture class - it's a tomb monument of a young poet, who, according to the inscription, won a poetry contest with a Greek poem shortly before his death. The poem appears on the tombstone alongside a lengthy paragraph which (if I remember correctly) may suggest that the young man studied himself to death. So let that be a lesson to us all!

Last but not least, a quiz for the birders:

What's this guy? I saw a bunch of them hopping around in front of the train station in Ostiense - they kind of look like big crows, but with a much lighter body, black wings and head. Life bird for me maybe? ;)


  1. That's a Hooded Crow. They don't occur in the U.S., so it's a life bird for you.

  2. I think that the patrician guy's restored head looks a bit like voldemort with a nose...
    also, that torso against the machine backdrop has a distinctly steampunk theme to it. how can you not see this!?!

  3. Charlie has a point about the patrician guy and Voldemort. It even looks like his nose had to be reattached. He looks like he was head shopping.

    Seriously, this is a fantastic museum! I love the contrast of color and contour between the sculptures and the machines. The marbles generate the energy the power plant once did.

  4. Steampunk! I didn't even make the connection, but I bet that's why I like it so much. Charlie, really looking forward to having your observations to complement mine in a few days. :)

    John, thanks for the bird info! I saw some weird sparrows today too - kind of looked like house sparrows but different.

    Mama, the nose is definitely either reattached or a replacement. That's the most common restoration you see around here.