A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
The advent of Humanism in early fifteenth-century Italy, with its focus on classical literature and art, brought with it the invention of the modern archaeological museum. Not surprisingly, Rome, as a center of the Humanist movement, became a mecca for museumgoers. The vast collections of the Vatican, the Museum of the Campidoglio, and those of many private families attracted Europeans and, later, well-heeled Americans.
In recent years, however, a lack of public funding for repairs has closed sections of these museums and even entire institutions. Of those that remained open, many offered outdated, poorly maintained displays. At the dawn of the new millennium, Rome has regained its place as one of Europe's great museum centers with the renovation and opening of three world-class galleries.
The first of these is in the Palazzo Massimo, a nineteenth-century palace and former Jesuit school adjacent to the Baths of Diocletian near Rome's Termini Railroad Station. On display are the most important sculptures and paintings from the nation's archaeological collection.
The second museum, in the restored sixteenth-century Palazzo Altemps near the Piazza Navona, focuses on the history of antiquities collecting by such noble families as the Ludovisi, Altemps, and Mattei of Renaissance and post-Renaissance Rome.
A third museum, which belongs to the city, is housed in an abandoned power plant on the Via Ostiense not far from the pyramid of Cestius and is known as the Montemartini Museum after the original designer of the plant or the ACEA Museum after the electrical company that owned it until recently. The museum architects have retained and restored the impressive power-generating machines, using them as a backdrop for many important and long-hidden objects.
Stephen L. Dyson is a professor of classical archaeology at SUNY Buffalo. Jennifer Trimble is a fellow at the Stanford University Center for the Humanities.