During our past few weeks here, we have had the opportunity not only to work at the archaeological site but also to visit a number of museums in Umbria, Tuscany, and Rome. In addition to providing us with more background on the Etruscans and Romans, the museum visits help give us ideas on what we can do to improve the antiquarium in Castiglione del Lago. Currently, the antiquarium’s eclectic collection of ancient Etruscan artifacts, Medieval art, and Italian WWII paraphernalia has limited signage and jumbled organization, so part of our project is to help make the displays more audience-friendly. Castiglione del Lago’s antiquarium has potential, so hopefully in the near future it will look more like museums such as Arezzo’s Museo Archeologico, which we visited about two weeks ago. Even though it isn’t considered one of Italy’s finest museums, the archaeological museum in Arezzo still had a number of strengths. My favorite display from the museum was a recreation of an Roman banquet setting, shown below:
Personally, I find recreation exhibits such as the banquet model to be really impactful because they make the past seem more real and help me to understand the lives of individuals in the ancient societies that we have been studying. For someone without any background in Classical Studies, Arezzo’s recreation exhibit would be even more helpful since the viewer probably hasn’t read descriptions of banquets or seen fresco depictions of them. With this factor in mind, Arezzo could improve its exhibit by providing other examples of Roman banquets, such as a poster showing the banquet scene from the Tomb of the Leopard or photographs of archaeological remains of a banquet, so that the audience would understand what the museum was basing the display on. Providing the audience with artistic, historical, and archaeological examples would also better connect them to the process of museum archaeology and in turn give them a more complete view of the ancient world, as Hedley Swain suggested in An Introduction to Museum Archaeology. Even without the extra information, Arezzo’s banquet reconstruction is very effective at giving context to artifacts that would have otherwise just been groups of pottery.
In regards to the antiquarium in Castiglione del Lago, a display combining Roman artifacts and household materials to recreate a scene such as a banquet would be a relatively easy and inexpensive way to liven up the current exhibits and give context to the artifacts. After making initial reconstruction displays comparable to those in the Museo Archeologico in Arezzo, we could potentially build towards more complex reconstructions, similar to the ones we saw in the Museo Etrusco in Chianciano Terme. Of the museums we have visited outside of Rome so far, the Chianciano Terme has been my favorite. The majority of its displays were remarkably ingenuitive, providing a significant amount of context and background information. In addition to artifacts in cases with descriptions, the exhibit included models of a grave, a pottery wheel, a banquet, and a farm. My favorite part of the museum was the reconstruction of an Etruscan household, with cutouts of a family interacting with the artifact display.
As a museum visitor, this method of presentation was much better at catching my attention than a simple case of artifacts. Like Arezzo’s banquet reconstruction, the household scene helped me to visualize the day-to-day of Etruscan life and connect with the lives of those in the past. If a member of the museum’s audience didn’t have much background information on the Etruscans or Romans, they would probably not find cookware very interesting to look at if they weren’t able to relate it to something they knew and understood. This household display allows the viewer to see cookware as it would have been used in Etruscan times, which helps them to make connections and better understand the artifacts. However, a problem with presenting artifacts in recreations such as the household scene is that the recreation shows only one possible scenario, which could potentially narrow the perspective of the audience. Ideally, a museum should show multiple possibilities of how various artifacts were used, but that would take too many resources. Instead, Chianciano Terme’s exhibit could be improved by making sure that it is clear to the audience that the artifacts might not have been used exactly how they are depicted in the set up. The museum could make posters that pose questions to the audience about their own perspectives, such as asking them if they could picture other potential scenes in their minds, which would make the exhibit more interactive as well. Additionally, this particular exhibit could be improved with better lighting so that it is easier for the audience to see the artifacts. Even with minor areas for improvement, the exhibits at Chianciano Terme impressively creative and set the bar high for the antiquarium in Castiglione del Lago.