The archaeologist and the museum

This month, the Rijksmuseum of Oudheden will finally again be fully opened to the public as the Egypt-exhibit will finally be renovated. To satisfy the first thirst for knowledge, the public has been able to see the brand new Greek floor and the first contemporary exhibits since december 2015. We talk to curator Ruurd Halbertsma about these brand new floors that many of us have enjoyed in their old, and their new state.

The new permanent Greek exhibit shows the broad range of the Greek influencei n the world (RMO, Mike Bink)
The new permanent Greek exhibit shows the broad range of the Greek influencei n the world (RMO, Mike Bink)

The Greek-exhibit opened its doors again in December 2015, and now the first temporary exhibits are open to the public. Are you satisfied with the renovation?

“I am very satisfied. This renovation has been a process that took around four years to finish, and when I heard that we would be renovating the whole building I asked myself: What would I really want to do with the museum? To answer that question I went back to the Greeks and the way they looked and dealt with art. That brought me to Aristotle, who looked at art as a philosopher but also as a biologist. He considered the possibility of art to let people feel enthusiasm and even ecstasy by the concept of ritmos, in which art has a certain flow. You could see it as a combination between surprises and moments of peace.”

Was the renovation needed? Were you searching for a more timeless or more youthful approach?

“Actually, we went back to the roots of the museum. Daily life is already filled with screens and constant sources of information, so we decided to keep all that technology out of the exhibits. We do have an audio-tour but there are no interactive components in the exhibitions. Now, the object is the central point of your visit.”

“Another problem was that we had asbestos in the walls, which every old building has. So when the renovations started, it took seven months to remove it. That gave us possibilities to start all over. And now we have a large open space for temporary exhibits while all the permanent exhibits are located around the central stairs.”

The new permanent exhibit, Classical World, has a brand new room and it’s blue. Why blue?

“We wanted a colour that would do justice to the sculptures. And blue is a colour that is associated with Greece, with the blue sky and the sea. So it is purely an aesthetic choice.”

The statues are the main focus point of the new exhibit, but they are not protected by glass or anything. Are you not afraid they might get damaged by kids?

“Our statues have never been behind glass or anything, and we have never had any problems with damages or children touching them. People respect these artefacts, and just in case something might happen there are always guards to keep an eye on them.”

The statue of Hecate (RMO)
The statue of Hecate (RMO)

What is your favourite piece in the exhibit?

“That is a difficult question, but if I had to choose I would say the statue of Hecate. It is the piece that is featured on the new poster. Hecate was created in the golden age of the Greek-styled sculptures, but the one we have is a Roman reproduction which shows the impact of the Greeks on other cultures. Another important aspect is that the Hecate was part of the collection of Rubens, and the piece was also part of the first museum when it was still located in the Hortus. So the Hecate features the history of this museum, as well as the history of Greek art.”

The Egypt exhibit is still being renovated, what happened to all the artefacts that were on display?

“Our Egypt collection is around 10.000 pieces large, although not all of these are on display in the museum. To store such a large amount of pieces, you would need an incredibly large depot especially if you were to store the large sculptures and the mummies. That depot would need temperature-controlled rooms, guards, everything a museum would have actually. To store it that way would cost an incredible amount of money, and therefore we did not do it. We loaned our collection to the museum of Bologna, where the pieces are on display until they can return to the renovated wing here.”

What is the new plan for the Egypt-exhibit?

“From what I know there will be a more thematic story, and less artefacts on display. That way the story will be more clear, and the objects will be displayed in a more accessible way.”

Male portret from Cyprus (RMO)
Male portret from Cyprus (RMO)

With the museum now almost done, what kind of special things are waiting in the coming study-year?

“The Egypt-exhibit reopens in October with the First Ladies of Egypt-exhibit, and we also want to renovate the Provincial Roman exhibit. We will never be done with changing and perfecting things in this museum, but this large renovation was very much needed. We hadn’t changed the permanent exhibits since 2000.”

“If we would ever have more space, I would like to see an exhibit on the history of archaeology as a science, and on archaeology as a ‘collection-profession’. But that would be a plan for the future in the most ideal way.”

Can we expect any temporary exhibits on cities as Palmyra, with all the destruction going on right now?

“We will be having an exhibition on Nineveh, which has also been partly destroyed during the war in Syria and Iraq. This exhibit will be done in cooperation with the Louvre, the British Museum, and the museum of Bagdad and it will be purely about archaeology and not about the war. We do not want to be silent about these cities and the destruction going on there, but we also do not want to give the attackers more and more attention because that is exactly what they want. So when doing exhibits like Petra, on cities like Palmyra that is a bit of a problem right now.”

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