MACHINES AND GODS IN ROME
One of the twenty museums managed by the city of Rome, is the Centrale Montemartini. It’s also one of the most creative. I don’t know who thought up using the city’s first public electricity plant, built in 1912, to display works from the “basement” of the Capitoline Museum, but whoever it was a stroke of genius.
While other old buildings along the Via Ostiense were torn down, this one was saved because of its architectural significance. Built in Art Nouveau style, the white building was named after an Italian economist of the period. The area along the busy thoroughfare that was once the direct route to Ostia and the sea is rather scruffy but improving. The museum is set back behind office buildings in a courtyard where the lovely lamp standards and the little water hydrant with the ever-present SPQR (the Senate and the People of Rome) welcome the visitor.
Beyond the exhibit of the industrial past, a tribute to industrial archeology, the museum opens out into two floors of treasures from the time when Rome ruled the world. And what treasures they are:
gods and gilded youth,
the remainders of a colossal statue of the goddess of fortune,
and a row of Roman portrait sculpture from the Republican era.
The most striking displays are those placed in juxtaposition with gigantic black boilers, massive turbines and diesel engines.
I have to admit, my favorite of all the sculptures, is one of a not-so-humble shoemaker (just like Rome, Italian shoes are eternal). This fleshy guy, who must have been proud of his appearance, had the tools of his trade sculpted above his portrait. If he was worried about his place in history, he can find comfort from all the visitors who contemplate his memorial (although I suspect a few might snicker).
Each era has its wonders, and the museum is a good place to contemplate how one led to another.
For more information you can go to www.centralemontemartini.org
All photos, copyright by Judith Works.