Situated just a few minutes on foot from Garbatella metro, Centrale Montemartini brings together an interesting and unforgettable contrast of old and new.
Definitely one of the more unusual museums in Rome, Montemartini offers a juxtaposition of ancient Roman art and sculptures in an industrial factory setting. In fact, Centrale Montemartini Museum was once a power plant whose interior now acts as a bold exhibition backdrop and combined permanent housing for ancient archeological wonders found during excavations.
Centrale Montemartini Museum came into existence in 1997, initially as temporary housing for the exhibition of sculptures that were found during excavations. However, the housing proved extremely popular and hence this locale turned to permanency.
Upon arrival I was not particularly moved by the initial display of white marble sculptures that I have seen so many times in multiple museums in Rome. After all, the city offers thousands of ancient works and when you’ve seen a hundred that look the same, you may think you’ve seen them all.
However, the first floor reveals something truly fascinating – additional busts of Greek gods and goddesses from the 5th century B.C amidst hefty machinery from the industrial era. This main exhibition hall demonstrates these sculptures interacting with the power station’s interior in a subtle albeit sophisticated manner.
The obscure background with its hard and definite lines contrasts with the natural, robust curvature of Roman bodies, not in a glaring manner but instead in a particularly intriguing one. The pure white marble figurines against an unusual palette of melancholy colours conveys a definite sense beauty and an unexpected and extraordinary union.
The detail provided on boards near each sculpture is helpful to locate it and provides the visitor with its history, revealing where in Rome it was found during excavations.
In addition to Roman sculptures, exquisite colourful mosaics bearing aquarium or battle scenes can be seen. Some of the mosaic tiles are hoisted upon walls, but the biggest scenes are placed ever so naturally in a sort of a sandpit in between the sculptures – a definite downplay of the grandeur of the time but also evincing the manner in which these mosaics were unearthed, pretty much in the dust.
Although the union of sculptures and industry is astonishing at Centrale Montemartini Museum, the contemporary art-lover in me had hoped for increased interaction between both. Instead, works of art are strategically placed much like the ordered mechanics of the unused industry equipment, both set in their solid states for us to observe and draw our own parallels.
Nonetheless, these Roman sculptures, varying significantly in size and seemingly out of place in their stance between the turbines and engines of the old power plant, carefully demonstrate the stark contrast between the delicate naturalness of the cream-coloured stone and the dark metal that almost looms overhead.
Centrale Montemartini is open from Tuesday to Sunday (9am – 7pm) and is closed on Mondays as well as on the 24th, 25th, 31st of December, 1st of January and 1st of May.
Have you been to Centrale Montemartini Museum in Rome, Italy? If so, what did you think of the experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.