Museum Tour

During the second week in Rome we continued visiting several museums as a class because we had a discount card that had to be used in three days time.  I think that Friday the ninth broke my record for the number of museums I have visited in a day!  We met bright and early at the Baths of Diocletian which has now become a museum that portrays inscriptions from antiquity but is itself an artifact.  One part of the museum is inside the original brick vaulted structure that once served the baths.  I always find myself inspecting the details where the intersection happens between old and new.  In this particular case a modern large spanning roof recreated a covered space in the ruins, and I found that it existed quite harmoniously with the ancient structure.

At lunch time we went to the nearby Church ‘Santa Maria Degli Angeli’ which is a church built into the other side of the old baths and was renovated by Michelangelo.  The outside is the same stunning brick, but the inside is a decorative interior of various marbles and imagery.  I love touching different materials in buildings (I’m nerdy that way), and in doing so discovered that much of the marble is actually fake.  More than half of the walls and columns were masterfully painted to look almost identical to their counterparts, likely because the marble had become almost unattainable when the renovation was completed.  We went to the church for the specific intention of seeing the Meridian line that was added to the church in the eighteenth century.  I was amused by the large gash that had to be cut through a marble cornice to allow the small dot of light into the space.  At 1:07 we saw the dot of light travel directly across the line to indicate that the sun was at the highest point in the sky.

The second museum that we visited together was the ‘Museo Nazionale Romano’ located in the ‘Palazzo Massimo’.  It had a large and varied collection, but the main thing we went to see were the many frescoes and mosaics that were taken from ancient Roman villas.  They are stunning and were a joy to behold.  This museum building is quite different then the one of the baths.  The museum is in what was formerly a three-story Palazzo with a large central courtyard.  The Palazzo was largely renovated and modernized, and the architectural elements that attracted me most were a system of lighting fixtures (large aluminum cubic frames that held an adjustable plane that then reflected a spot light onto an artifact), and a new glass facade that was added around the interior courtyard on ground level (therefore converting what was originally an outdoor vaulted space into an interior gallery).  I also liked how they recreated the enclosures that held frescoes and mosaics, and then lightly traced in missing portions of the surface.  I hope that my photographs will tell you more than my words!

The final museum we visited that day was the Palazzo Altemps.  This was my favourite museum of the day – likely because it felt like a genuine Palazzo that had remained almost unchanged.  The collection of sculpture was the most intentional and detailed collection I had yet seen, and the spaces themselves seemed to house the artifacts like they would have in their original state.  I found myself spending more time examining and enjoying each sculpture instead of experiencing the common blurring sensation of seeing too many things at once.  There are a few modern interventions in the building that are much more subtle than in the Palazzo Massimo.  In one portion of the museum the floor is removed to reveal a conglomeration of spaces and layers below.  In another large space an interesting steel structural system was added to support the existing beams and joists.

The following Monday we visited one final museum which was that of ‘Palazzo Spada’.  This museum houses an original art collection of the family that once owned the palazzo, and is most famous for an architectural intervention created in the building in 1632 by Francesco Borromini.  In a courtyard adjacent to the central courtyard, Borromini created a forced perspective galleria that looks much longer and larger than it actually is.  Sloped floors and walls partnered with a decreasing size and distance of columns, fool the eye into thinking that an 8m long galleria is actually 37m long, and that a 60cm high statue at the end of of the galleria is a life-size figure.  It is not until one looks at it from a closer angle or walks into it that one can see that one was fooled!



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