During my stay in Castiglione del Lago, I’ve been able to visit many of the surrounding cities. Each city is a work of art in itself, and their history and architecture have made an indelible impression on me. More importantly, in regard to my courses on Roman and Etruscan history, we have visited museums in these cities to observe how they portray the history of the Etruscans and Roman expansion, namely the Etruscan Academy Museum of the City in Cortona, and the Museo Etrusco in Chianciano Terme.
In the Etruscan Academy Museum of the City of Cortona, one of the most important things I noticed is that all the informational cards in the museum are in Italian and English. It can sometimes be frustrating to visit museums in foreign countries when the information is present yet inaccessible due to a language barrier. The exhibit that specifically caught my attention was the Etruscan burials and grave goods. In order to communicate the idea of an Etruscan tumulus, an artificial hill created from dirt, the museum provides a diorama of a burial mound showing the outer facade as well as the inner chambers. The mounds were mainly used as family tombs containing many rooms and corridors filled with grave goods for use by the deceased in the afterlife. The museum illustrates the process and function of tumuli using dioramas and poster boards to educate all audience members, not only those who have studied the subject.
The museum exhibits themselves are very spacious and can be easily viewed from various angles, allowing visitors to see most, if not all, of the objects on display, rather than a limited view obscured by walls. Something I had not seen before in a history museum is the tactile, hands-on objects which visitors can touch. At first I thought a stone statue leading to the burial exhibits was an actual artifact, as most history museums I’ve visited discourage patrons from touching or even getting too close to the artifacts. I thought it was a very creative and engaging way to incorporate the visitors into the museum’s collection, allowing them to apprehend history through their senses. Such methods often appeal to younger audience members, but visitors of all ages can appreciate the ability to touch replicas of ancient artifacts.
Overall I greatly enjoyed the layout of the exhibits and the arrangement of objects in each display, although this museum is not without its faults. None of the artifacts in the display cases have descriptions of their uses. There are large poster boards that give an overarching summary of the exhibit or important key facts, but a majority of the exhibits, such as the burial exhibit, simply name the objects and give their time period, but do not explain what the object was used for in Etruscan society. It seems that the museum assumes visitors will have prior knowledge of the artifacts on display. For example, the Roman curule seat in the grave goods exhibit. The average museum visitor may simply interpret this item as the ancient Etruscans being buried with their chairs, probably to have them in the afterlife, yet research shows that a curule seat was an indication of political and military power that would only be buried with those of very high rank. A museum’s purpose is to preserve and inform, yet audience members are forced to draw their own conclusions or passively interact with the objects if they are not provided with background information.
My favorite museum trip of all was to Chianciano Terme. The Museo Etrusco looks small from the outside but boast two floors of Etruscan artifacts. Most interesting is the lower floor for its use of architecture to display artifacts. The lower level of the museum was an old wine cellar consisting of long hallways, storerooms, and alcoves. Artifacts are housed within these areas, recreating the environment in which they were found, as well as providing spaces for dioramas of everyday Etruscan life. All posters of information are written in Italian, English, and German. Considering that it is a small museum, this came as a pleasant surprise as it shows that the curators were dedicated to accommodating international visitors. The museum also made use of videos to convey certain aspects of the excavation process as well as recreations of Etruscan life. The videos are in Italian but contain English and German subtitles, again reflecting the consideration for international visitors. My favorite exhibit was Etruscan women on the lower floor. A video depicts a reenactment of the life of an Etruscan women, from her hairstyle, manner of dress, jewelry, and daily activities. Dioramas recreate female activities by incorporating artifacts, such as weights for making clothes on a loom and a hearth for cooking. An interesting touch is that one of the displays containing very small, fine gold jewelry provides a magnifying glass next to the display, allowing visitors to get a closer look at the fine detail of Etruscan jewelry. Although this small museum is very impressive in regard to their consideration for international visitors, creative use of architectural space and breadth of artifacts, the museum fails to provide explanations of the objects on display, like the museum in Cortona. Even after studying Etruscan history, I was still unsure of what certain objects were or their functions. Any other common visitor would simply observe the objects but not appreciate their meaning.
In reflecting upon these two museums trips, they are both lacking adequate detail and background information about the bulk of their collection. In addition to simply displaying an object, museums can give meaningful insight and background to bring to artifacts to life for visitors. Other than that, both museums proved to be enjoyable and engaging, displaying Etruscan and Roman artifacts in a manner visitors of all ages would find interesting.