Discovering Museums Virtually


May 12, 2020

Written by Maria Terrinoni, an Arcadia University student who studied on the Arcadia Rome Program in the Spring of 2020 for “Museum Practices in Rome: The History of Collecting”. 

In a time of lockdown, it may seem hard for museums to stay relevant in our day to day life. Moving exhibits to the web seems like an ideal solution. Now that museums are going virtual, access is granted to millions, and people locked in their homes can view exhibits at their leisure. Virtual museums have some benefits, such as no crowds, free admission, and clear pictures. Better yet, being able to view museum exhibits online provides accessibility to those with disabilities, those with low income, and those with transportation obstacles.

Before leaving Rome, I made it a priority to visit the Vatican Museums; I had to see the Sistine Chapel. The way the museum is designed leads the visitor through all other rooms and exhibits, with the Sistine Chapel being the last stop. Because I was so determined to see the chapel, I found myself rushing through the exhibits and not stopping to look and enjoy some of the beautiful artwork. Do I regret this? Yes. When I entered the chapel, I thought to myself, “That’s it?” I was disappointed in myself for having rushed through all these fantastic exhibits, just to see one room.

Thankfully, I am an individual with no disabilities allowing me to go to a museum, walk around, and enjoy the exhibits without worries of “Is there an elevator? Where is the elevator located? Are there tactile versions of art pieces so I can have the same experiences?” These are very real problems for individuals with disabilities that many people have to worry about when visiting a museum. I also don’t have any financial obstacles preventing me from being able to enter a museum. The Vatican Museum cost 18 Euros to enter. While this is expensive, I knew I wanted to see the museum and was willing to pay that price. However, some people cannot afford this amount of money to enter a museum. It may be hard for low income individuals to justify spending this amount of money on just a museum.

However, now that I am back in the States I find myself facing transportation obstacles to get to museums. Despite being an ocean away from the Vatican Museums, I also have trouble accessing bigger museums in the United States such as in cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. Having these transportation obstacles makes it difficult for me to visit museums for just a day trip. Fortunately enough, I now have the ultimate access to many museums thanks to the Internet, including the Vatican Museums.

With this unlimited access to the Vatican Museums, I found myself able to look back at the exhibits that I had missed while I was there in person. The website is extensive and covers every exhibit in the museum. What I found to be best about this virtual experience was that I was able to learn information on art pieces that I did not know before. Visiting the museum in person is more about the visual experience, whereas online, I was able to view the pieces and art wings, while also being able to learn a lot of information about the things I was looking at.

On the website, one has the option to take a 360 tour of certain museums or you can see all the museums through pictures. When looking through the different museums, one can also look at different pieces. After clicking on a certain piece, the website gives you specific information about that piece. After experiencing the difference between an in-person visit and a virtual visit to a museum, I have found that while I enjoy both immensely, I learned a lot more during my virtual experience. I was able to learn information that I did not learn in person, and I was able to see everything I wanted at my own pace. Each is beneficial in their own way, but a virtual museum is definitely fantastic in terms of accessibility and knowledge.