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 Vatican exhibition aims to 'transport' visitors to Rome  
By MICHAEL GAFFNEY
LubbockOnline.com

The Museum at Texas Tech will present the Vatican exhibition, titled "Traditions and Renewal: Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums," in a redesigned gallery that will include computerized devices designed to enhance the exhibit.

When the 31 ancient, Roman frescoes go on public display June 2, 2002, the museum's Diamond M gallery will have new, curved walls installed to route patrons through the exhibit. The museum director hopes that photographs gracing the walls add a bit more mystique to the presentation.

The 31 frescoes will be hidden behind walls that bear photo-murals of Roman streets and buildings. The aim is to create the illusion of being in Rome, near the churches where the frescoes originally were painted, said Gary Edson, executive director for The Museum.

"The first photo mural will depict one of the ruins in Rome that is very near the Church of St. Nicola (where 13 frescoes scheduled for display originated)," Edson explained. "So actually, if you were going around the corner in Rome toward St. Nicola, you'd be on the Tiber River side of the Forum, and that's the image we'll have."

Visitors entering the exhibit will see the same view they would see approaching the Church of St. Nicola in Rome, he said.

"We'll position the viewers in relation to the map - kind of pinpoint the place you would be if you were actually in Rome," Edson said. "The curved wall will hide the exhibit, and there'll be an arch or opening patrons will walk through and, hopefully, feel as though they've entered St. Nicola."

The St. Nicola frescoes will be displayed in the first gallery area.

A second curved wall leading to the St. Agnese (St. Agnes) exhibition area also will depict a view of a street in Rome near the Church of St. Agnese.

"Rome was a walled city, and as we walk into this second room the mural along the curved wall will show part of etchings on the wall of Rome," Edson said, adding, "The Church of St. Agnese was built outside the wall, so when you step through the arch you will be outside the city wall."

The idea is to create an illusion that immerses visitors in an environment suggestive of both Roman churches, he said.

The 18 frescoes in the second exhibit area were removed from the walls of St. Agnese in the mid-1800s.

Another brief video explaining the preservation and maintenance of the frescoes will be available in a separate room in the Diamond M gallery, he said.

Entry to the exhibit will be through the museum's expanded west wing, which includes the Helen Devitt Jones Auditorium and Sculpture Court, Edson said.

After dropping off banned cameras (no photographs allowed), bags or other accessories at a "coat room" in the west wing gathering area, patrons will be offered light refreshments, and then will be directed into the museum auditorium to view an 8- to 10-minute video about the exhibit, Edson said.

"The presentation will be about the Vatican Museums and where the frescoes come from, and how we happened to get them," he said.

The plan is to allow 200 people each hour to enter the exhibit, and the auditorium accommodates 300, so "maintaining a steady flow through the exhibition will be no problem," he said.

A high-tech innovation will be available to interested visitors who want more in-depth explanation than the text panels placed by each fresco.

When visitors exit the introductory video through the east doors of the auditorium, a booth or table arrangement will be stationed outside, offering wireless "wands" that, through computer technology, will provide prerecorded descriptions and explanations of images on the frescoes.

"They show images that relate to stories that were taught, either through religion or within the society in Rome, in the 12th and 13th centuries," Edson said. "Most of the images were meant to be memory enhancing."

The pictures were used to trigger the memory of Christian stories that related the acts of saints and prophets, he said.

"St. Catherine, who supposedly was martyred on the wheel, is a good example," Edson said. "The story goes that St. Catherine went to convert the Roman military to Christianity and they rejected her, and she gave her life for that."

Since most people of the time were illiterate, images played a central role in conveying ideas and morality tales, he said. The images stirred the shared memory of the viewers, whose primary source of Biblical teachings were stories told by monks, priests or scholars.

The electronic, wireless wands will have a key pad that corresponds with numeric codes designated for the frescoes, Edson said. Patrons will be able to key-in a code and, while viewing a particular fresco, hear the story behind the imagery.

"These are hand-held wands that you hold up to your ear," Edson said. "They are self-contained units that provide random access to audio material that will correspond to an interpretive panel beside the fresco.

"You enter a key pad code and the wand will tell you something about that particular fresco or frescoes."

The plan is to provide English and Spanish language wands, but the museum had not settled on a vendor or estimated the cost of the wands when this report was filed.

"The other thing we're waiting on is at least a preliminary estimate or projection of the number of people who might be coming to the exhibit," Edson said. "When we get that data we'll give it to the company that provides the wands, and they'll look at those numbers and, based on their experience, they will suggest the number of wands we'll need."

He added, "They also figure out how much we'll have to charge for the wands to pay the expense.

"Our primary concern is that we have this service available to the visitor and we can at least recover the cost involved in providing the service."

From the main gallery, visitors will follow a roped lane that will guide them either to a side exhibit of complimentary art works, or back to the DeVitt extension, where "whatever they've checked when they entered the museum" may be retrieved before exiting, Edson said.

The complimentary exhibition will include 17th and 18th century artworks donated for exhibit by the Museo Franz Mayer in Mexico City and the Comision Nacional de Arte Sacro of Mexico. The Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation in Houston will donate 16th and 17th century paintings to enhance the exhibit.

More than 34 pieces contributed by the Mayer and Arte Sacro museums will be displayed in Gallery No. 3. The Blaffer Foundation paintings and other items will be exhibited in Gallery No. 1, Edson said.


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