From Ditch to Nitch: Making the Vatican Museum

Public museums as we know them today were invented in eighteenth-century Europe in tandem with new ideas about the cultural value, social purpose, appropriate setting, and intended audience of art and historic artifacts. But how, where, and why did these protomodern museums take shape? What practical and conceptual operations were required to create an eighteenth-century museum, and how did they intersect with wider scientific, political, economic, and aesthetic concerns? This seminar investigates these questions by focusing on eighteenth-century Rome, a crucible of modern museology, and particularly the Pio-Clementino museum of classical antiquities, nucleus and ancestor of today’s Vatican Museums. We will use this and related case studies to explore the history of collecting and display in Italy; changes in the art market and new notions of cultural patrimony; shifts in patronage and the invention of new bureaucratic and institutional structures; the growing interest in Greco-Roman antiquity and the development of “Neoclassicism”; and the role of the Grand Tour in catalyzing and diffusing new cultural ideals. The seminar will also function as a workshop for my current book project on the changing fortunes, forms, and meanings of an important nucleus of ancient statuary as it moved from a clandestine excavation near Tivoli in 1774-5 through installation at the Vatican, transfer to Paris under Napoleon, and return to Rome after the Battle of Waterloo. By reconstructing how and by whom these prized artifacts were unearthed, identified, acquired, restored, displayed, contextualized, published, reproduced, confiscated, and ultimately repatriated, the project illuminates both the history of museums and the diverse and sometimes conflicting understandings of antiquity at the dawn of the modern era. 3 credits. Satisfies the pre-1800 requirement.