Thursday, 3 January 2013

"we were all the more vividly transported into the past"

Kitchen utensils found in Pompeii
From The Wonders of Pompeii available
on The Project Gutenberg
On site, buildings on their own look empty and it is difficult to imagine them as lived spaces. In museums, objects on their own are abstractions, not entirely comprehensible. But when they are connected (and connected with their context) they offer a much more valuable experience to the visitor. 
Unfortunately, putting them together (creating a link between the city and the artefacts) requires a big effort of visual imagination, especially considering how little information is available both on site and in museums to help the user.

When I went to the Museum of Naples for the first time, one of the museum staff members claimed that the ideal user experience should be: going to Pompeii, then visiting the museum of Naples and last going to Pompeii again. 
It is exactly what I did for my research: I went to Pompeii, to Naples and again to Pompeii in a few weeks time. Actually, the experience was so exciting I decided to spend my next 4 years studying it! However, how many tourists and visitors are likely to do something similar? Very few indeed. This is why I think digital unification and virtual museums are successful approaches to deal with a problem that can only be solved in the digital space.

As a support for my thesis, I’m borrowing the words of writers much better than me to describe on the one hand the frustration of the tourist in Pompeii and on the other hand how much the experience of the artefacts can enrich the perception of the buildings (and viceversa). 

Pompeii, the Small Theatre
From The Wonders of Pompeii available
on The Project Gutenberg
I might tell you of a pretty picture on a rich mosaic in such-and-such room. You would go thither to look for it and not find it. The museum at Naples has it, and if it be not there it is nowhere. Time, the atmosphere, and the sunlight have destroyed it. Therefore those who make out an inventory of these houses for you are preparing your bitter disappointments. The only way to get an idea of Pompeian art is not to examine all these monuments separately, but to group them in one’s mind, and then to pay the museum an attentive visit.”

The Wonders of Pompeii, Monnier, 1867

we were all the more vividly transported into the past, when all these objects were part and parcel of their owner’s life. They quite changed my picture of Pompeii. In my mind’s eye its homes now looked both more cramped and more spatious - more cramped because I now saw them crowded with objects, and more spacious because these objects were not made merely for use but were decorated with such art and grace that they enlarged and refreshed the mind in a way that the physical space of even the largest room cannot do.

Italian Journey, Goethe, 1816 

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