Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Palazzo Massimo Alle Terme By Sarah May Grunwald
One of my favorite places to visit in Rome is the not to be missed Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. It houses the world's most important collection of Roman antiquities, and it is one of the least trafficked museums of its caliber. Another way to avoid the nightmare of the Vatican!! It is also in a convenient location, just steps away from the main train station, but also steps away from the Exedra, which has a darling rooftop bar for your post museum cocktail.
Palazzo Massimo is what all museums should strive to be like. The collection itself is stellar, but the ambience of the place is really its greatest asset. As well, it is a totally feasible 3 hour trip, that won't make you say, "Oh, I wish I could have more time there." The collection ranges from 5th c B.C. bronzes, Republican era portraits, religious iconography, gorgeous mosaics, Imperial era frescoes and portraits, and even a nuministic collection for all you coin lovers. The collection also has continuity, which helps you along, even when you think you have reached the point where you can't look at another piece of marble; there is always something more interesting around the corner that puts the pieces of the Roman puzzle together, like the museum is telling you a story.
The best way to feel this continuity is the start at the top floor and work your way down. In this way you will see the most important artistic treasures, and, if you feel up to it, have time for that very interesting coin collection in the vaults in the basement. This is a very important piece of advice, because honestly, the museum is very quiet and the students that work there are not going to go out of their way to remind you to see the hermaphrodite or Livia's frescoes.
This collection, more than any other in Rome, demonstrates the highly polychromatic world the Romans lived in, not only indicated in the gorgeous frescoes that have been placed here, but in the mosaics and statues. Romans idealized the human form, as did the Greeks before them, in fact, the Romans had Greek sculptors working in Rome to create this masterpieces often copies from Greek originals. If we evaluate Roman art to give us a clear picture of roman life and ideals, what we know is that they were in fact very different to us in the day to day life.
They idealized lithe male gods, and fertile looking goddesses in the human form. They lived in a polychromatic world, which could almost be bordering on Technicolor to our eyes. As a warrior nation, sexuality was considered not only natural but of the utmost importance. The human form was not one of shame, but a form to celebrate, and idealized by sculpting the Gods and Goddesses as beautiful ideal men and women. To our eyes, Roman art can seem almost too upfront and straightforward. They did not hide sexuality or truths. A great example is the sculpture of the sleeping hermaphrodite, the child of Hermes and Aphrodite, who seems to be playing peek-a-boo with the audience. On one had she is all woman, with curves and breasts like an idealized woman, on the other side; you have the sexual organs of a man. Causing the viewer to question what exactly does gender identity mean? Nevertheless, the Romans lived in a war machine. A militaristic regime, and there was no mistaking to them who were the men and who were the woman. While one could play with gender and sexuality in the arts, a man's duty was to serve Rome, and a woman's was to serve man.
You could easily get hot looking at so many muscular and gorgeous men! They will make you look at your own man, and wonder if he could possibly start doing some sit-ups to strengthen up those abs so you can role play ancient roman myths in bed. Who were the artists' models, we wonder? And why don't men look like that, and why isn't the modern ideal of woman more like the healthy version the Romans had? Don't get too worked up, though, because you can't take a break. There is no café for a quick caffeine fix, so come prepared. Have a good lunch and an espresso before visiting