Sunday, 1 April 2012

Museo Nazionale Romano

Stunning, isn't she?  She's a sea-goddess, 1st C. AD, and she's in the Palazzo Massimo of the Museo Nazionale Romano.  The Museo Nazionale should have been on my A-list for things to see in Rome, but, misled by guidebooks (which are always insufficiently impressed by Roman stuff) I'd put it at the top of the 'B' list instead.  I hasten to add, however, that it's a museum I've long been eager to visit, but haven't been able to before:  it was closed for renovations. (Well, most of it.  I did get to the epigraphy section, which had some really neat stuff--but classical inscriptions are, admittedly, a minority taste.)

The renovations are a success, but the museum as a whole is still a mess.  It's spread out over four or five different sites, some of which are still closed; the building which is prominently labelled 'MUSEO NAZIONALE' is not, in fact, the main one, but there's nothing to tell you this on the entrance, and buying a ticket does not entitle you to a plan showing you where the rest of the museum is.  Even when you find the Palazzo Massimo there's nothing at the entrance to tell you what is where.  Luckily, I knew what I wanted to see, and immediately asked the guards where I could find the frescoes from the domus Liviae.

 They were on the second floor.  Keeping them company were a host of other Roman frescoes and mosaics.

It was not quite the best collection of ancient painting I've ever seen--I'd give that honour to the Archaeological Museum in Naples, which has the pick of Pompeii and Herculaneum--but it was very, very good.  I had it all to myself, too: in the forty minutes or so I spent there I encountered only one other visitor.

The lovely sea-goddess was on the first floor, and similarly ignored. The ground floor, however, was busier. I can only guess that the tourists didn't know there was more to see upstairs.

Museums in Italy (and in Greece and Turkey, for that matter) often do seem rather to frown upon tourists, in a way that to someone from the north of Europe seems downright bizarre.  Enter even a regional museum in England and you'll be confronted with a shop and a cafe; you'll have multi-lingual audio-guides thrust at you; there will be a 'childrens' trail' and a list of events. Italian museums, in contrast, make a point of hiding even the lift: ask for it, and a member of staff will escort you through two closed rooms to a broom cupboard. Frequently the museums are closed altogether, for long periods of time. (The one in Herculaneum, for example.)  I suspect that English museums get to keep the profits from their shops, cafes, and events, to defray their costs, and that Italian ones don't.

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