There are a great many permanent collections and installations in the museums and galleries of Rome, of course, but Bonnie and I also made a point of going to two temporary exhibitions while we were there. The first was the main reason we traveled to Rome at all; the latter, actually, was just because of an advertisement on a street corner by our hotel. Both were great, however!
Alphonse Mucha at the Complesso del Vittoriano
Alphonse Mucha is my favorite artist. I love the clean, bold, sinuous lines of his art, so much so that I even have a tattoo done in his particular art nouveau style (and probably future tattoos as well). Once a person sees his art, they usually realize they’ve actually known it for a long time, or at the least have seen other art based on his works. This is partly because of one reason Mucha was so famous in his day–he made art accessible to the common person by infusing fine art into advertisement and other public contexts. Though originally Czech, he spent much of his life in France along with well-known travels to Italy and the USA.
The exhibition we visited showcased works from all through Mucha’s life, all of it incredibly well preserved, ranging from sketches to examples of advertising-art (e.g., biscuit tins) to sculpture and jewelry. The audio guide was very helpful, especially because it had commentary from John Mucha, the artist’s grandson, who provided unique and intimate insights.
We greatly enjoyed both getting to see the art in its original forms and learning all sorts of new things I had never discovered in my reading on Mucha. I will note that the Complesso del Vittoriano is–however gorgeous and imposing an edifice–utterly confusing to get through; we managed to walk through the entirety of the building, asking directions the whole way, before finally finding the exhibition. We also heard “Mucha” pronounced about 5 different ways while trying to find the place.
Elmi dell’Impero Romano
We found this exhibition, mainly on the helmets of ancient Rome, by happenstance–we were walking to our hotel and saw a poster for it, and then happened to walk by the museum by accident. Nonetheless, I love Roman history, so it was a very lucky find indeed. There were essentially four aspects to the exhibition: helmets, the stadium ruins the museum was partially sited on, gladiator and sports equipment, and accompanying illustrative art. I actually enjoyed the art best of all, even though it was the most minor, complementing aspect; some of it had an almost high-end comic book style that really brought the battle scenes to life, and the rest was fascinating sketches of the uniforms and armor of legionaries throughout the centuries, which is something you don’t normally see.
In the same token, the helmets–whether original or recreation–served a similar task, and really brought history to life for us. Though, as Bonnie noted, it did seem that ancient heads were a lot smaller than ours. Also, sometimes, goofier, like helmets that had three feathers sticking out of the top. That said, we realized: if there was some fierce, angry guy splattered with blood coming at you with three feathers on his head, “goofy” isn’t necessarily the word that would come to mind, and the feathers really would be useful for spotting, say, your goofy friend who always wears three feathers on his head from across a chaotic battlefield.
The helmet exhibition was spread throughout the museum’s main attraction: the ruins of the Stadium of Domitian, which were…interesting, but the audio guide was one of those that just lists the dimensions of things and doesn’t tell you any more than the caption by the image does. But that note aside, we really did get a sense of the enormous (70,000 seats!) stadium and the many sports and gladiatorial combats that occurred there, in similar senses to the other recreations, originals, and art. It also helped us appreciate the Piazza Navona hugely more once we realized that the piazza is shaped in its peculiar way because it had metamorphosed directly from the stadium. Interesting stuff!