Museums in Rome are not known for their calm. The ‘Skip the queue’, skip the queue’ shouts of ticket hawkers outside tell you all you need to know about the number of people you’ll be fighting with inside for a view of one of the ancient masterpieces.
If you crave a bit of peace as you peruse then head over to the Museo Barracco di Scultura Antica on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. This museum does not attract the crowds (when I visited there was only one other visitor) yet has plenty to enjoy. Not big by Roman standards, it shows the collection of one man on a couple of floors of a central palazzo. Giovanni Barracco was an avid collector of ancient sculpture, filling his house with hundreds of works. Faded photographs on the walls show the pieces in his original domestic setting. He had sculptures under the windows, on the tables, above the bookcases – this was a man who didn’t collect works to put in a bank vault but who enjoyed seeing them every day. In 1902, in return for a plot of building land, he handed the collection over to the city.
Four hundred pieces strong the collection includes work from ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Cyprus and the Etruscan civilization. Mostly it consists of sculpture (many a sign informing us sadly ‘Roman copy of a Greek original’), but there is a small fresco from the 3rd century AD on the top floor. Pale and rural it features an intrigued bird and an unhappy hermaphrodite wearing nothing but a cloak. Simply brushed foliage adds to the earthy-toned colours and adds a modern sensibility.
A denarius from 44BC is an interesting link to the days of ancient Rome. It features Julius Caesar, for whom 44BC wasn’t a great year. But coins haven’t changed much and whilst we still use them they open the imagination and are a quick and understandable flashback into the past.
Elsewhere marble reigns, although amongst the heads and funerary items there is a section of an ancient Egyptian water clock. A fragment of a head-shaped perfume flask resting on velvet in a presentation box reminds of a time when works like these were not museum pieces but given as gifts. Amongst the marbles, a refined portrait of a boy on the upper floor is worth seeking out, the marble almost translucent, standing out as clearly special amongst the other works.
Frankly you may have seen enough ancient sculpture already if you are in Rome, but if you have the urge for a little more this is a pleasant museum that is a welcome respite from the chaos outside.