Rainy Day in the Museum – ARCOS

Like a ticking time bomb, I was ready to detonate. BAM!  It has been raining or threatening rain or rain was predicted for more days than I  – BAM. BAM.  With the voice and bared teeth of a Giganotosaurus, I bellowed – “Jack, I refuse to stay in this house another day.  If it fahkackata rains, it won’t melt us!.  Let’s go to Benevento and check out the contemporary art exhibit at ARCOS.”

Sigh, “What kind of art?  Where?”

“The show is called Materiche Geometrie.  Maybe its cubism.  Does it matter?  Let’s just go!”

I had read somewhere that there was an artist from Benevento, Mario Lanzione, who had an exhibit at the ARCOS Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Sannio.  We had often gone to the primary museum in Benevento, Museo del Sannio, and found it incredibly interesting.  We had never visited the companion museum across Corso Garibaldi.

Corso Garibaldi is a broad  avenue that has been turned into a charming shop and bar lined pedestrian street.  At the top is a castle and a park and at the bottom a parking lot.  In the middle, a UNESCO heritage site! For whatever reason, roads were closed and we couldn’t park at the top near the museum but at the bottom of the hill.  Well, the sun was shining and walking up hill is great exercise. Rats, I forgot to put the umbrella in my purse.  It won’t rain – look sun – hot sun.

When we got to ARCOS we were greeted by an incredible couple of museum employees. I was remiss in not getting their names.  Once they detected that my Italian was accented and we were pegged as foreigners, we engaged in a terrific conversation about why we love the Sannio Hills.  We paid our whopping €1 each senior citizen, Province of Benevento resident entrance fee and were surprised when the woman who was working at the ticket counter jumped up and took us on a personalized tour.  Now granted we were the only people in the place and rain was predicted and she might have been bored, BUT whatever the reason she made our visit absolutely incredible.

What we didn’t realize was that the facility held not only the Contemporary Art Museum but also Museo del Sannio Sezione Egizia.  Our knowledgeable guide steered us away from the art and on to the Egyptian part of the building.  I discovered that she was one of the educators that conducted programs for school children – in full period costume.  How could I not love her!

The name of the permanent exhibition is ISIDE la Scandalosa e la Magnifica!  Isis, the scandalous and the magnificent – who could not want to visit an exhibit with such a tantalizing name?

What we discovered was that a temple to the goddess Isis had been built in Benevento during the reign of Roman emperor Domitian.  He had his minions drag lots of Egyptian artifacts to Benevento.  The temple was built with a mixture of ancient Egyptian items and recreated Roman items.  Our guide pointed out how one could tell which statues were Egyptian and which were Roman replicas.  I have to say, the Roman ones are still pretty ancient.

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Roman copies – an original was there too and you could see the difference. God Horus, son of Isis was depicted as a resting Falcon.  There long beaks were chopped off in 380 AD.

Domiziano (Domitian) apparently said – IO sono il grande della vittoria. Re dell’ Alto e del Basso Egitto, sono Domiziano, vivente in eterno. Per Iside, madre divina, astro del mattino, regina degli dei, dai monti di granito rosso di Siene ho trasportato questi monumenti nel nobile tempio che ho edificato in onore della grande signori di Benevento nell ‘ ottava anno del mio regno.

I am the great victor. King of Upper and Lower Egypt, I am Domitian, living forever.  For Isis, divine Mother, Morning Star, Queen of the Gods, from the mountains of red granite of Siene I transported these monuments to the noble temple that I built in honor of the great gods of Benevento in the eighth year of my reign.

I couldn’t understand why a Roman would build a temple to an Egyptian goddess.  Rome had tons of its own gods and goddesses.  Along with a photo of a statue we saw in the museum, here is what I discovered:

Like other foreign rulers in Egypt, Domitian embraced Egyptian religion and co-opted, so to speak, a particular goddess cult – that of Isis – to enhance his own stature through association. Domitian spread Isis worship throughout the Roman Empire. In fact, this statue probably originally decorated a temple to Isis in Benevento in what’s now Italy, built during Domitian’s reign.

http://www.getty.edu/art/mobile/center/egypt/stop.php?id=364903.   J Paul Getty Trust

As we looked at headless and faceless statues, our guide explained that the temple was destroyed by the Edict of Thessalonica from the Emperor Theodosius who in 380 recognized Christianity as a state religion, forbidding all other pagan cults.  Essentially, when Christianity became the religion of choice all of the heads of the statues were lopped off.  Just a hint as to what the Christians would do to you if they caught you worshiping some other god or goddess.  Interesting how history repeats itself.

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Hacked off head of Isis.  The 3/4 life size statue was probably from the Temple of Behbet-el-Haga in the Nile Delta.

Since 1892, the sculptures and other found Egyptian items were merged in the collections of the Museum of Sannio.  At ARCOS, the items were placed in a manner to help the viewer – me – get a feel for what the temple looked like.  They also had screens for a currently non-working multi media immersion.  I can imagine the how much fun learning is for the school groups who work with our guide.  She not only told us what everything was but brought the place to life.  We also found out that a celebration to Isis still happens once a year!  (Don’t tell Theodosius.)

Oh, oh and get this – they hold jazz concerts and tastings in the recreated temple!  We made sure to get on the e-mail list.

I bet you’re wondering about the exhibition of contemporary art.  The galleries are wonderful, the geometric based art was interesting and provided a brief respite from the now pouring rain.  The artist currently lives in Benevento and has exhibited internationally.

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PS – Did I mention the museum staff offered to walk us back down the hill with an umbrella?  Did I mention they wanted to buy us coffee and hang out with us until the rain let up?  I love them!!!

Ci vediamo!

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