While my colleagues were celebrating British manufacturing by supporting the launch of the Make it in Great Britain exhibition in the science museum, I was experiencing “manufacturing” of a different sort in a very different museum setting – namely in the gardens of the Vatican Museums in Rome.
I’ve been to the museums before, but purely to see the Sistine Chapel – so this was a little bit different. The gardens make up quite a bit of the Vatican City’s territory, and a guided tour gives a different perspective on some familiar sights (who wouldn’t want to be a gardener if they lived in the yellowish house in the foreground and woke up to the view below every morning).
Marconi also had a house in the gardens and was involved with the development of their radio station – a bit of a surprising nod to support for science and technology, also evident with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. For many centuries, the inhabitants of the Vatican were responsible for saving much of the statuary from Ancient Roman times, and some impressive pieces are scattered around.
The garden tour only had 30 odd people on it, and everyone is counted in and counted out so are a lot more peaceful and personal than other tours of the museums themselves. In total, though, 20 – 25,000 people a day visit those – and it shows in the herds that gravitate to the Sistine Chapel. The volume of people in there lessens the experience, and means that the impressive collections immediately before and after it are ignored by many, while I actually preferred some of the artwork in the Rafael rooms, and the Pinocoteca.
Rafael, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto – the list of artists goes on and on, and it’s a difficult place to take everything in on the first or even second visit. And, I’d echo some of the sentiments expressed in this blog post – increasingly just expecting people to listen or gawp in awe isn’t enough to engage attention, and it’ll be interesting to see whether museums such as this one adapt to their audiences’ expectations of interactivity.
So it was a nice surprise to stumble upon Lux in Arcana – an exhibition of 100 key items from the Vatican’s Secret Archives in the Capitoline Museums. The first time that this material has crossed the Vatican City boundaries. This exhibition has its own app which provides extra photographic detail, audioguides and more information on exhibits. All good, but it would have been great to had it better promoted – not just included in the bumpf that was handed to me with my ticket.
The exhibit aims for striking imagery and more appealing screens beside exhibits. The YouTube video below gives some glimpses of the original material on show – which ranged from a letter from Members of the (then) English House of Lords on Henry VIII’s ‘secret matter’ (his divorce from Catherine of Aragon), the last letter of Mary Queen of Scots, a room long scroll of evidence of the trial of the Knights Templar, and material from the trial of Galileo in a section on scientists and philosophers.. How the Henry VIII letter ever reached Rome weighed down with a tonne of official seals is a mstery in itself.
The Vatican’s Secret Archives
And in 34 degree heat on our last day – I had this Ferrari Store view of their 2004 F1 Championship winning car: I guess that’ll just have to do til I get to see their British cousins at the science museum.