MANN, new Campania Romana section inaugurated in historic rooms closed for more than 50 years

The National Archaeological Museum in Naples has opened the new section "Campania Romana. Sculptures and Paintings from Public Buildings." 2,000 square meters of rooms included in the spaces of the west wing, whose historic rooms had not been accessible for over fifty years.

This morning saw the opening in the presence of Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano of the new section “Campania Romana. Sculptures and Paintings from Public Buildings” of the National Archaeological Museum of Naples: 2,000 square meters of rooms included in the spaces of thewestern wing, whose historical rooms had not been accessible for over fifty years (the MANN has an exhibition area of about 15 thousand square meters, which become almost 28 thousand square meters counting the Braccio Nuovo). Two hundred and forty works are on display, a true summa of Roman art, which was expressed fertilely in the region and in southern Italy. It is a journey through ancient Campania, a territory that had more extensive boundaries than those of today: starting from the 2nd century B.C. and reaching at least the 3rd century A.D., moving between the Phlegrean area, the Vesuvian cities and the inland territory, with particular reference to the present-day Caserta area. And, looking further afield, the itinerary touches on lower Latium to the north and some towns in Calabria to the south.

The installation starts with a suggestion: it is as if the visitor were walking along the road axes of the ancient Roman centers of Campania, going to peek among the decorative apparatus of public buildings, discovering how art was, for our ancestors, an experience of everyday life.

“Today we start a path of expansion of the MANN that will lead one of the most important archaeological museums in the world to double its presence in the city with a new location in Palazzo Fuga. The value of freedom, the value of the West, is understood very well in a place like this, because here are the origins of our history. In the Greco-Roman civilization are our roots, and it is our task to safeguard and make usable to all this heritage that reminds us of our cultural heritage,” Minister Sangiuliano said.

“The reopening after fifty years of the spaces of the West Wing, with its exceptional collections of sculpture, painting and very elegant rooms, is a point of no return in the history of the National Archaeological Museum: from now on it is, without a shadow of a doubt, the largest museum of classical archaeology in the world. Behind this immense effort is an extraordinary team, made up of absolute top professionals from MANN, the Ministry at the central level, universities and the private sphere, capable of planning and spending structural funds despite Covid. There is Europe and the MiC, which, through PON CULTURE AND DEVELOPMENT, ERDF 2014-2020 funds (seven million euros), supported a memorable undertaking. There is, above all, the pride of a city that is once again the capital of archaeology. And there is, may I say, the fulfillment of the promise of this leadership, which, upon arrival, found a museum in steep decline and more than half closed and which, in spite of everything, affirmed that the entire museum would be reopened, better and more effectively than before. We won our championship by fighting on all fronts with passion, the passion that every Italian expresses when it comes to defending and getting our country back on its feet,” commented MANN director Paolo Giulierini.

The Campania Romana section, curated by Carmela Capaldi (professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Naples Federico II), was set up considering the physiognomy and history of the rooms, which, with their large dividing columns, decorated vaults and spaciousness, are an additional source of fascination for the public: it was these spaces, on the ground floor of the then Royal Bourbon Museum, that were conceived by Michele Arditi, in the early decades of the 19th century, as the prestigious home of the Museum of Statues. Later two artists, Giuseppe Abbate (1864) and Fausto Niccolini (1866-1870), were commissioned to decorate the rooms. We had to wait until the twentieth century for a turning point in the museographic conception of this section: starting in the 1960s, the exhibition system conceived by Vittorio Spinazzola and Amedeo Maiuri underwent a rethinking: the theme of “context,” that is, the origin of the works, is central. This programmatic line was adopted for the setting up of the Farnese collection in the east wing and motivated the relocation of the statue of Ferdinand I of Bourbon as Antonio Canova’s “Minerva pacifera” at the top of the staircase, in place of the “Giant of the Palace” (the colossal bust of Capitoline Jupiter from Cumae). This was perhaps the gesture of strongest ideological and visual impact in the reorganization of the ground floor spaces.

The Campania Romana section, which now opens in the west wing, continues the reconstruction of the milieu of artifact discovery. Presented (in many cases for the first time) are not only marble and bronze sculptures, but also wall coverings, epigraphs, architectural and decorative elements that decorated public buildings and funerary monuments. The statues of the Dioscuri of Baia inaugurate the tour, introducing the first exhibition segment devoted to thePhlegraean area (Baia, Cumae and Pozzuoli). It continues, then, with artifacts from the Vesuvian compartment, first encountering Pompeii with artifacts from the area of the Triangular Forum (Temple of Asclepius, Palestra Sannitica and theater) and the Civil Forum (Temple of Apollo, Temple of Venus, Basilica, Macellum, Capitolium and Temple of Fortune).

A focus is also devoted not only to thetheater area of Herculaneum, with the virtual reconstruction of the Quadriga (which cannot be placed with certainty, presumably sandwiched between forum and theater), but also to theAugusteum, for which the hypothetical original location of sculptures and frescoes is reproduced; in fact, for the first time, the complete sequence of decorations in the niches is presented to the public. As far asancient Stabiae is concerned, the replica of the Aphrodite Sosandra is on display, compared with the sculpture from Baia.

Not to be missed, during the visit, are the rooms dedicated to theamphitheater and theater of Santa Maria Capua Vetere: the layout follows the thematic principle chosen by Michele Arditi for the so-called Cabinet of the Venuses, adopting love as the fil rouge of the works on display (Aphrodite, Adonis, Ganymede and other representations of the passions of Zeus).

Image: Campania Romana, Augusteum of Herculaneum (Naples, MANN). Photo by Valentina Cosentino

MANN, new Campania Romana section inaugurated in historic rooms closed for more than 50 years
MANN, new Campania Romana section inaugurated in historic rooms closed for more than 50 years

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