Rome, for the first time an exhibition on Roman-era lighting systems

In Rome, at the Villa Caffarelli venue of the Capitoline Museums, the exhibition 'New Light from Pompeii to Rome' is scheduled from July 5 to October 8, 2023: for the first time a major exhibition on lighting systems of the Roman era.

For the first time, an exhibition delves into the lighting systems of theRoman era. It is New Light from Pompeii to Rome, scheduled in Rome at the Capitoline MuseumsVilla Caffarelli exhibition venue from July 5 to Oct. 8, 2023. Promoted by Roma Capitale, Assessorato alla Cultura, Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali in collaboration with the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich, and curated by Ruth Bielfeldt and Johannes Eber, with the organization of Zètema Progetto Cultura, the exhibition invites visitors to discover what is no longer visible: the light of the past .

The exhibition deals organically with the technology, aesthetic dimensions and atmospheres of artificial light in the Roman world, focusing on the city of Pompeii. No other city of antiquity has returned as many lighting systems as Pompeii. The exhibition brings to Rome 150 original bronze artifacts from the Vesuvian cities: oil lamps, candelabra, and oil lamp holders as well as figurative oil lamp stands and flashlights, works housed at The National Archaeological Museum of Naples (MANN) and the Archaeological Park of Pompeii. In addition to famous statues and sculptures of oil lamps, the display also features artifacts belonging to the National Archaeological Museum of Naples that have not been exhibited in public, many of them restored especially for the occasion, and, in this Roman venue, also by about 30 works pertaining to the collections of the Capitoline Museums, Antiquarium. The exhibition is enhanced by faithful reproductions produced in cooperation with the St. Gallen Art Foundry AG, as well as digital simulations on three-dimensional models. The project is conceived by Ruth Bielfeldt, professor of Classical Archaeology at the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich, as part of a research project that has approached these materials and themes systematically within an interdisciplinary scientific framework.

Roman artificial light, which the exhibition invites us to rediscover, is light art. With their plastic forms and elaborate surfaces, bronze oil lamps and candelabras create a spectacular setting of light and shadow. The theme of lighting offers a new perspective for understanding the different spheres of life in ancient Rome: celebration and religion, magic and eroticism, dream and night. Lighting is a cultural-technical product that enables, first and foremost, the creation of a human space of sharing. This anthropological perspective on light, understood as a fundamental social mediator, serves as a guideline for the narrative journey. To relate past and present, lamps made by light designer Ingo Maurer (1932-2019) have been included within the exhibition project. His creations testify to the vitality of a creative relationship with light that has continued for two thousand years.

The exhibition itinerary, divided into 9 rooms, traces the role of light in daily and social life, in a dialogue of the archaeological objects themselves with literary sources. Welcoming visitors is an installation that juxtaposes the Silenus, an ancient oil lamp, with the modern work Remember Yves by Maurer, a blue sculpture with a strong aesthetic impact that refers to Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void (1960) interpreted as an embodiment of light in motion. In the first room, an introductory educational video explains the scientific project “New Light from Pompeii” and follows the path of the sumptuous bat-painted oil lamp from the Villa of Ariadne in Stabia from discovery in 1761 to reproduction and experimental use in 2022.

The model of the House of the Tragic Poet, presented in the third room, offers insight into the lighting conditions of the Roman domus, a place characterized by semi-darkness. In this regard, research conducted by Danilo Marco Campanaro (Lund University) reveals the low amount of available light, as well as the rhythmization of the day through sunlight. The “foundry” in the fourth room focuses on the technical and aesthetic aspects of bronze-a material that modulates light with its varied colors and surfaces. A late Hellenistic candelabrum made of polychrome bronze(aes corinthium) testifies to the special appreciation for this material in the late Republican period. Here visitors are invited to touch a replica of the large bat lamp, an iconic object of the exhibition. In the Room of Night, the original of the bat lamp from ancient Stabia is presented alongside other lamps as well as a precious oak-shaped lampstand that was part of a sacred nocturnal landscape installation.

The next two rooms, the fifth and sixth, then offer an in-depth study of light related to rest and food consumption that, through theatrical and playful oil lamps, stoves and food warmers, offers a reconstruction of the complex choreography of light related to conviviality and its function as a "social regulator ." Several anthropomorphic works-such as the complex trilichne with dancer figurine-show how much the scenic light of convivium focused precisely on the marginalized social groups responsible for entertainment. The relationship between artificial light and servants is expressed through the lampadophore statue, the so-called “Apollo of the House of Julius Polybius,” a high-quality sculpture from the early imperial age in the Archaic style, which takes on the function of a tray holder. The aesthetics, function and history of the discovery of this figure and other artifacts found in Pompeii are explained in a multimedia station with interactive digital content.

The Virtual Triclinium resurfaces, through 3D glasses, in the night light of 79 AD. The virtual light simulation is based on an exact reconstruction of the wall frescoes and calculations of the light intensity of the flames and the reflective properties of the materials. Visitors with a “virtual flashlight” can light oil lamps, exercising control over the light and thus over their own perception.

In the atmospheres room (the seventh), a wide range of different atmospheres opens up The religious aura is evoked through the furnishings of the lararium of the House of Fortune in Pompeii: the set of bronze statuettes and an elegant lamp in the shape of a human foot, displayed for the first time in its entirety. Phallic oil lamps belonging to tintinnabula from tabernacles and workshops testify to their magical aspects. Dionysian and erotic oil lamps evoke the sensuality of ancient light. In addition to the well-known Ephebus from the House of the Ephebe from Pompeii, a small, unpublished and unknown eye-bearing statuette of a nude oriental child, discovered in 1818 in the clinic of the surgeon Pumponius Magonianus not far from the Forum of Pompeii, is presented. The section on the aesthetics of light presents the complex multiombre setting of Roman oil lamps, which is best understood when related to ancient theories of shadow in Plato or Pliny.

Theeighth room is devoted to the rediscovery of Pompeian bronze utensils in the 18th and 19th centuries. At that time, Roman furnishings exerted a fascination with the immediacy of ancient daily life. The room offers surprising findings and insights into the practice of creative restoration by the Bourbon Foundry prior to the musealization of archaeological finds between 1750 and 1820. An arbitrarily reassembled set of elements described by Winckelmann in 1761 and restored in 2021 is presented here. The exhibition onVesuvian cities closes with theeruption of Vesuvius . It is not human casts but bronze objects that tell the story of the moment of fear and flight from antiquity to the present day. A small oil lamp in the shape of an African head (MANN) accompanied two Pompeians as they fled. But it was only the oil lamp that survived.

Finally, in thelast room, dedicated to finds from Rome, the other side of the relationship between man and light in Roman antiquity is proposed. Light, heat and fire can generate dramatic events that transcend the private sphere and affect the life of the whole city. Thus are traced the events of the city in relation to fires and the modes of organization put in place to cope with this phenomenon. Particular emphasis is given to the Barracks (Excubitorium) of the Vigili of the VII Cohort in Trastevere, from which comes a torch, a rare find likely related to public lighting. Some objects in bornzo, oil lamps, candelabra, a statuette, then suggest what the furnishings that adorned patrician homes in imperial Rome might have been.

The exhibition is open daily from 9:30 am to 7:30 pm. Last admission one hour before closing. “Integrated” ticket Capitoline Museums and exhibition for non-residents of Rome: € 16.00 full “integrated” ticket; € 14.00 reduced “integrated” ticket. “Integrated” Capitoline Museums and Exhibition ticket for Rome residents who are not “MIC Card” holders: € 15.00 full “integrated” ticket; € 13.00 reduced “integrated” ticket. € 2.00 museum + Exhibition for categories entitled to free admission, except for elementary and middle school students and the disabled and their accompanying person and on occasions of institutional visits. Free entrance to the museum for holders of the “MIC Card” and for the categories stipulated in the current pricing.

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Rome, for the first time an exhibition on Roman-era lighting systems
Rome, for the first time an exhibition on Roman-era lighting systems

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