Double take on Augustus: at the Grand Palais
Last summer I posted briefly about the big "Augustus" exhibition in Rome, and I reviewed it in the TLS. More or less the same show has now transferred to the Grand Palais in Paris, under the title "Moi Auguste".
It's only occasionally that I get to see the same exhibition in two different places. In this case it makes an interesting comparison -- and, good as the French version is (simply for the collection of stuff conveniently in one place), as a show it doesn't honestly come up to the original in Rome.
To be fair, there are a few impressive, wow-factor, moments. In the Grand Palais, you go straight in to face the Prima Porta Augustus (which does look amazing, although it wasnt quite as easy to get round the back of the piece in Paris as it had been in the earlier version of the show). In Rome, it had only travelled from just up the road in the Vatican, so probably wasn't thought unexpected enough to be the introductory moment.
But generally, the changes made in France haven't really helped, and there are some very odd (not to say occasionally disastrous) design decisions.
This starts very near the beginning, in just the second room. There is a brief line up of imperial/pre-imperial heads, each one aaccompanied by a coin portrait for comparison. Because of the potentially nickable coin, it appears, each of these portraits was covered by a large, not every elegant, perspex box. Maybe that wasn't so bad. But they didnt actually have a marble bust of Antony, so they chose to have a large perspex box with just two coins and a gap where the marble head might have been.
Things got worse on the second floor, where the exhibition lost the tight focus it had in Rome and became more of an illustrated gude to the Roman empire, Roman everyday life (with an accent on France). Some of the best pieces were dreadfully lit. (The husband poignantly observed that he had never seen the stunning bronze Augustus usually in Athens looking worse (left), and the Meroe head from the British Museum (above) presided over a pool of gloom.)
There were few cases where you could see both sides of an object. One of the few of these was occupied by a rather undistinguishe; see rightd collection of glass ware (where nothing was gained by having the all-round view). The amazing Hoby silver cups (below), where it really is worth having the 360 degree angle, were stuck with their "backs" to the wall of a case -- painted a very ill-chosen shade of white).
Sadly the star of the show on the second floor ('star' in the sense of what grabbed to attention of most visitors, were some projected images of the paintings of Livia's garden room at Prima Porta and assorted other high spots of Roman painting (sadly my picture on the right -- though it shows the three clunky projectors, doesn't capture the fact that these "paintings" moved, and bits of them got magnified, then shrunk again). Needless to say, these hadn't been in Rome; and we couldn't help thinking "why waste money on this, rather than light the Meroe head properly, or show the back of the Hoby cups?".
Dont let these criticisms put you off visiting though -- just to see what there is. In fact, I'm going with some students next Saturday, and I think they'll get a lot out of it (plus, I'm afraid, being quizzed by MB on the museological deficiencies).
If you do go, there's a nice Italian restaurant nearby, Artcurial, with a 25 euro formule and some very nice N Italian wines -- who were very friendly when I emailed and said that we would like to book lunch at 3.00 pm. Try to come a bit earlier, they said, but if not -- we'll wait. Not a response I received from the other restos in the neighbourhood.