Museum Practices: Capitoline Museum


May 9, 2019

jordyn cohen - student of ohio state university - Arcadia in Rome museum practices -spring 19 

This week, our class went to the Capitoline Museums. We first met outside and looked at the re-creation of the statue of Marcus Aurelius riding his horse. We learned that the original statue was the last equestrian statue of its time standing because people thought that it was a statue of Constantine, so it was not melted down to be used elsewhere like the rest of the equestrian statues. The reusing of materials and buildings in Roman history is something that we have seen over and over again throughout this course. For example, we learned that the marble seats of the Colosseum were taken to be used elsewhere. We also saw how the Centrale Montemartini used to be an electric power plant, but is now used as a museum space.

Once we were inside the museum, we saw the original statue of Marcus Aurelius on his horse. The statue was directly across from the statue of Constantine, whose hand was sitting next to his face, almost as if he was waving at Aurelius. We talked about how this could have been seen as a dialogue between the two figures, possibly even alluding to the fact that the only reason why Aurelius was there was because everybody thought that he was Constantine, so his statue was not melted. This was a curatorial choice that was not explained by any plaques in the museum. Therefore, somebody from the general public might have missed this conversation between the two statues without this insider information and knowledge. This links back to the conversation we keep having in class about the accessibility of museums. While anybody who walked into the museum could see Constantine and Aurelius’s statues, they might not realize the significant dialogue happening between these two statues.

Later, we met with Dr. Isabella Serafini, who works in the Capitoline Museums’ education department.  She taught us about the tours that the museum gives to the blind community, and how they made the museum accessible for people who are visually impaired. We were able to experience the She-Wolf through touch, as a blind person would be able to do on this tour. We wore eye masks and gloves, and felt the statue. Serafini guided our hands over each part of the statue, explaining everything that we were touching.  I thought that this was a very interesting approach to experiencing the museum’s art. 

When I touched the statue with Serafini’s voice guiding me, I pictured the She-Wolf differently in my head than how it actually looked.  For example, when I was feeling the She-Wolf’s neck, she pointed out how I was touching its curls.  When I thought of a wolf-like animal with curls, I ended up picturing something that looked more like a curly-haired dog instead of a wolf.  I wonder how closely the images of these statues that the blind visitors create in their heads resemble the actual statues.

Isabella Serafini also showed us textured plaques that the museum made where blind people could feel the shapes of the statues that were standing in front of them.  Overall, I thought this tour for the blind was a great way to get a community involved in the museum who would not usually be able to experience art in the way that most of us do.  This again links to the theme of accessibility.  This tour makes the Capitoline Museums accessible to a group who would not usually be able to access it.  Serafini told us that the tactile visits have brought a lot more blind people into the museum, especially after they put information about these tours on their website.  And, with the feedback from these people, the museum can work to enhance this project to make it even more accessible to this population. 

This week, I learned a lot about the work that goes into making museums more accessible to populations that would not usually enter them. I look forward to our classes in the future to see other ways in which museums work to make themselves more accessible to the public.