Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Isis does it better

Archaeological Museum of Naples
Temple of Isis Collection. Photo by V. Vitale 2012
It is not possible to write about the Pompeian artefacts exhibited in the Museum of Naples without mentioning what is, in my opinion, the museum’s best achievement: the Temple of Isis’ Collection
Unlike the other more old fashioned areas of the museum, this little sub-complex has been re arranged in order to deliver a richer and more engaging information. It looks as if they were trying to meet the same audience’s needs expressed by the visitors I have interviewed. Unfortunately, the collection is closed for refurbishment but, thanks to the museum's direction's kindness, I had the privilege to visit it one year ago to gather documentation for my dissertation on the Temple of Isis.
Here follows a few notes about the collection, in comparison with the other Pompeian collections of the Museum.

Language: all the labels and the information are available in Italian and English, making the praiseworthy communication effort enjoyable by a larger audience.

Archaeological Museum of Naples
Temple of Isis Collection. Photo by V. Vitale 2012
Richer descriptions: the labels are less laconic and there are few panels telling at least basic information about the temple and the use of its different spaces (the porticus, the sacrarium the ekklesiaterion etc...). 

Contextual information: the exhibition is rich in contextual information. The first room displays a plastic of the iseum, where the user can see the frescoes’ fragments put in place and have an idea of the architectonical structure of the temple. In the same room are also exhibited ancient documentation from the excavations (1760s) such as Francesco Piranesi’s drawings and the engravings commissioned by the king before the removing of of the frescoes.
Almost every artefact is accompanied by a short text about its use, provenance and sometimes even about its finding location during the excavations.

In one of the room dedicated to the artefacts from the porticus area, a 2D visualisation helps the visitor placing each fragment on the original pattern, communicating the idea that, even though the fragments are framed and hanged on walls like paintings, they were not autonomous but part of a whole pattern. 

Relationships between artefacts: I believe this is the only Pompeian collection in the museum that gathers different kind of artefacts (frescoes, statues, ritual objects, inscriptions not immediately linkable to each other) and shows their connection, presenting them as elements of the same context: the temple is communicated as a «entity», a decorated public and sacred space. 

As always, there is room for improvement. For example, the plastic lacks in transparency, as it is implicitly presented as a reconstruction of the “real thing”, without mentioning the scholarly process or the component of speculation behind it and without mentioning that there are more than one possible, and plausible,  visualisations.

Archaeological Museum of Naples
Temple of Isis Collection: scale model
 Photo by V. Vitale 2012
Archaeological Museum of Naples
Temple of Isis Collection: informative panel
 Photo by V. Vitale 2012
 Moreover, the panels that are supposed to help visitors to locate the fragments on the original walls are, in my opinion, a bit too schematic for a non expert audience and, they make up only partially for the actual disposition of the fragments on the museum walls. In fact, even though frescoes coming from the same area of the iseum are grouped together, they are displayed on the walls disregarding both their vertical (top/down) and horizontal (left/centre/right) original position, creating a slightly confusing match.

I am remarking that because I believe that digital products could help an archaeological museum to improve the quality and quantity of delivered information. Nonetheless, the Isis collection is an interesting attempt to renovate the museum’s approach. It is probably not realistic to rearrange a whole museum (situated in an historical building) in such a way but the Isis collection can be seen as an example, able to give to the public an idea of the relationships between the artefacts, between the artefacts and their interpretations, between the artefacts and the building, between both of them and the ancient inhabitants of Pompeii.
I look forward to the news that such an interesting area of the museum is available again to the public. 

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