Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Museum of Naples: complaints department #1

G. Sommer, Ancient Vases in the
Archaeological Museum of Naples
from wikipedia
So far, I have written notes about Pompeii and the absence of the artefacts on site. What about the ancient objects found in the ancient city? Are the visitors of the Archaeological Museum in Naples more satisfied than the site’s ones?
Apparently they are not. 
Even though all the visitors I have spoken with recognised that the Museum shows interesting items, they were all disappointed (to different extents) by their visit.
The followings are the most common complaints

Language: almost everything is written in Italian. If the visitors don’t want to pay for an audioguide, there is no means to access even the most basic information in a language other than Italian. Considering that the Museum is visited by a very international audience this is very difficult to accept.

Brief and generic descriptions: even Italian visitors were disappointed by the information delivered in the museum, not because of the language but because they found it not sufficient and too generic. The labels are scarce and sometimes just made of two or three words (for instance: “vase, Pompeii”).

No information about use: it is difficulty to understand how everyday-life items were used. Not only surgical tools but even kitchen supplies remain somehow mysterious. The visitors can observe the objects but, because it is impossible to imagine their function or their context of use, the audience tends to loose interest in them.
In my opinion, this is really a shame as everyday-life items can be seen as the highest value offered by the archaeological site of Pompeii. In fact, if it is more likely that exceptional items survive because they are valuable and people take care of them, everyday-life objects often disappear completely. Moreover, Pompeii is one of the best places to analyse those objects in a richer context.

G. Brogi, Surgical tools in the Archaeological Museum
of Naples. From the Alinari Collection
The ones listed above were the impressions that my volunteers spontaneously communicated to me. Then I asked them few specific questions focusing on the topics more closely related to my present research. For example, I tried to understand how easy was for the public to establish a connection (both cognitive and visual) between the artefacts and the provenance building. There was a general agreement on this subject and here follows a sum up of what they told me [plus my comments in square brackets].

Little or no information about provenance: the provenance of the objects is not always stated. Often the labels just say “Pompeii” or “Herculaneum”. In some cases the provenance of the artefact is identified with the code of regionis and insulae set by Giuseppe Fiorelli. 
[I believe this choice is already disappointing for visitors who know a little bit of the toponomastic of Pompeii but I find it quite unsuitable for general public. Fiorelli’s code is precise and clever and it is very useful in archaeological excavations, records and studies. However, I don’t think it was meant for communicative purposes. Moreover, considering how peculiar and evocative are the names of many of the houses in Pompeii, using them might allow more people to connect the items with the place they come from.]

Little or no information about the context: not only it is often very difficult to establish a relationship between the object and the building, but also between the object and its context. 
[Mosaics for example, are usually exhibited on walls and there is no mention that they used to be floors’ decoration. Contextual information is almost completely missing. Speaking of mosaics, that are one of my specific target, there is very few information about how they were built, why they where used to decorate spaces, in what kind of houses and rooms they have been found etc... I believe this kind of information would definitely make the object more interesting in the visitor’s eye]

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