Machine and The Gods
via Ostiense 106
Within the cultural pole that has been developing along the via Ostiense south of Rome's city center, the most extraordinary achievement to date is the transformation of the Montemartini power plant into a place for the display of ancient art. The city's first municipal electric power plant, it was inaugurated in 1912 and abandoned by the 1970s. Following the restoration of its huge machine halls, it was selected as the temporary home for collections of antiquities belonging to the Capitoline museums, including works discovered after 1870 for which there were no adequate display spaces. A temporary exhibition, opened to the public in 1997 and entitled "The Machines and the Gods," was such a huge success that Montemartini quickly became a permanent branch of the Capitoline Museums. In a city unrivalled for not only its collections of ancient art but also for the superb quality of the museums in which such art is displayed (e.g., the Pio-Clementino and Chiaramonti museums at the Vatican), the Montemartini adds a completely new dimension. Rome, never an industrial city in the strictest sense of the word, now boasts one of the world's finest examples of industrial archaeology at the service of cultural institutions. The juxtapositions of the machines and the gods are truly compelling and strongly counter the notion that Rome is incapable of updating itself.
Jeffrey Blanchard won the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome in 1977. He has lived in Rome ever since, teaching in the world of American studies abroad, principally (since 1988) for Cornell in Rome, where he is Academic Coordinator.