August 2011

Underneath the Colosseum

I’ve always really liked the Colosseum (70-80 CE, shown on left) and its history: Vespasian! Nero the Loser! Gladiators! The bastardization of Greek architectural orders! But even apart from art history, I personally have a soft spot for the Colosseum because of my own experience in Rome: several years ago I got to see Paul McCartney play a (free) concert outside the arena. It was awesome to see the Colosseum “rocking out” in florescent lights, serving as a backdrop to Beatles music.

Since I am featuring a giveaway for two subscriptions to Smithsonian magazine this week, I thought it would be fitting to write a post inspired by a Smithsonian article. I immediately turned to an article about the Colosseum in a Smithsonian issue from earlier this year (“Secrets of the Colosseum” by Tom Mueller, January 2011). This article contains some interesting, lesser-known facts about the Colosseum. For example, did you know that during the Renaissance Pope Sixtus V tried to turn the Colosseum ruins into a wool factory? Luckily, that project was abandoned after Sixtus V died in 1590. Phew!

The bulk of the Smithsonian article focuses on the hypogeum, the area beneath the arena floor of the Colosseum (see below). This area provided a network of service rooms and tunnels for performers, athletes, animals, and equipment. Currently, there has been a lot of hype created about the hypogeum (ha ha!). This area and the third floor of the Colosseum were just recently opened to the public last fall, following a $1.4 million restoration project. From what I understand, the hypogeum will probably be open through October of this year.

I’ve always thought that the hypogeum was particularly interesting, especially since I once heard that the hypogeum has its own unique ecological niche. For centuries, plants have rooted among these underground ruins. These plants are located quite far beneath the regular ground level and probably experience a unique range of external temperatures, sunlight, and rainfall. With such unusual conditions, one can suspect why botanists have been interested in these plants for such a long time. “As early as 1643, naturalists began compiling detailed catalogs of the flora, listing 337 different species.”1 Multiple surveys have taken place since then; in 2003 it was recorded that the combined lists contain 683 species.

I especially liked how the Smithsonian article discussed how the hypogeum allowed Colosseum spectacles to maintain an element of surprise and suspense. For example, animals that were held in the hypogeum would enter the arena on a wooden ramp at the top of a lift. “Eyewitnesses describe how animals appeared suddenly from below, as if by magic, sometimes apparently launched high into the air.”2 The hunter in the arena would never be sure of where the next animal(s) would appear.

I can’t help but think of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games books after reading more about the surprise tactics used in Colosseum events. Although I had made connections between the Hunger Games and the Colosseum before (in both instances contestants are supposed to fight to the death), I hadn’t considered more parallels. The arenas for the Hunger Games were designed to continually introduce new surprises to the contestants. I even recall at least one instance (I think it was in Catching Fire) in which Katniss is lifted into the arena in a glass cylinder, suggesting that she was held in an underground space similar to the hypogeum.

Anyhow, I wonder how much Collins researched the Colosseum while writing her books. Has anyone else read The Hunger Games series? Can you think of more parallels between the Colosseum and the Hunger Games? What are your favorite things about the Colosseum?

1 Tom Mueller, “Secrets of the Colosseum,” in Smithsonian 41, no. 9 (January 2011): 29. Article found online at: (accessed 4 August 2011).
2 Ibid., 34.
Image credits: Colosseum image by Diliff via Wikipedia. Hypogeum image by Briséis via Wikipedia.

The "Collection Museum" Complete* List

The small “collection museum” list that I started in an earlier post has exploded into quite a large compilation, thanks to the comments from my readers! Per request, I’ve compiled this list into a separate post. This new list goes outside the chronological parameters that I used in the previous post, too. I’ve also added a two more museums: the Museé Nissim de Camondo (Paris) and Hillwood (Washington DC). As of the past week, Hillwood has taken a large role into my personal research project, since it was founded by female collector Marjorie Merriweather Post.

Walter Benjamin, when writing about collection, said that there was “a profound enchantment” in which “the thrill of acquisition” casts “a magic circle” around objects.1 Hopefully this list will provide helpful suggestions for those who like to experience such “profound enchantment” and magic in person.

The list is organized chronologically from when the museum was founded and/or opened for public view. I am defining “collection museum” as a preserved art collection amassed by a private collector, which is now on view for the public. Often, these collection museums are located in what was once the private house and/or residence of the collector.

*If you know of any other collection museums to add to this list, please let me know! I’ll try to keep this list as complete as possible.


1 Anne Higonnet, A Museum of One’s Own: Private Collecting, Public Gift (New York: Periscope Publishing, Ltd., 2009), xviii.


19th century

  • 1817: National Brukenthal Museum (Sibiu, Romania). Collection of Baron Samuel von Brukenthal, which was amassed during the 18th century. Von Brukenthal stipulated in his will (which probably was written sometime around 1803, the year that Van Brukenthal died) how his collection should be treated after his death. He ordered that when the last male heir in his line of succession should die, his Late Baroque palace presenting his collections should be open to the public. These events took place in 1817. The museum was nationalized in 1948. A more detailed history of the museum is found here.
  • 1837: John Soane Museum (London). As mentioned here, the collection functioned as a museum and academy in the beginning of the 19th century. Soane was serving as a Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy, and he allowed students to come and study his collection. Soane negotiated an Act of Parliament in 1833 to preserve the museum, and in that act was put into force when Soane died in 1837.
  • 1852: State Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg, Russia). The original collection was acquired by Catherine II (Catherine the Great) in 1763. The collection previously had been amassed by merchant and businessman Johann Earnest Gotzkowski. The museum is housed in a palace which was built during the reign of Catherine the Great. The building served as an official state residence, a private home of the empress, and also a storehouse for the art collection. When the New Hermitage opened on 7 February 1852, it was the first public Russian museum. More information on the museum’s history is found here and here.
  • 1883: The Corsini Gallery (Rome). Collection was formed in the 18th century by the Corsini family, notably Cardinal Lorenzo Corsini (who became Pope Clement XII). Palace was sold to the Italian state in 1883 and comprised the basis for the National Gallery of Art. Official website says that “only recently” was the collection moved back to its original site at the Corsini palace.
  • 1896: Worcester Art Museum (Worcester, Massachusetts). The museum was founded by Stephen Salisbury III in 1896 and opened in 1898. Salisbury’s collection originally had mostly American art, but the museum has been committed to acquiring objects from all periods and places. The museum website lists some historical milestones for the museum.
  • 1897: The Wallace Collection (London). The collection was mainly amassed by Richard Seymoure-Conway, who bequeathed the collection to his illigetimate son, Sir Richard Wallace. Collection is displayed in the Hertford House, the main London townhouse of Sir Richard Wallace. The collection was bequeathed to the British nation in 1897 by Lady Wallace (Julie-Amélie-Charlotte Castelnau), wife of Sir Richard Wallace.
  • 1898: Musée Condé in the Château de Chantilly (near Paris). Bequeathed by the Duc d’Aumale to the Institut of France in 1897. The museum opened to the public in 1898. (Note: This museum is not the collection of one private collector, but a collection that was amassed over time by the Montmorency and Condé families. Museum also has a collection once owned by Caroline Murat, the sister of Napoleon.)

1901 – 1920

  • 1903: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, Massachusetts). Collection of Isabella Stewart Gardner. The museum (“Fenway Court”) also served as Isabella’s residence. Construction begun in 1899, opened to the public on Near Year’s Day, 1903.
  • 1903: The Borghese Gallery (Rome). This gallery was the original conception and collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese (reign 1605-1621). Housed in the former Borghese country house, this collection contains works by Caravaggio and Bernini, among others. The art collection and country house were acquired by the Italian state in 1902. The remaining parts of the villa (including parks and open-air sculptures) were ceded by the Italian state to the municipality of Rome in 1903. More information about the museum is found here.
  • 1913: Jacquemart-André Museum (Paris). Collection of André and Nélie Jacquemart. Nélie Jacquemart was a well known society painter. In accordance with her husband’s wishes, Nélie bequeathed the mansion and collection to the Institut de France. Museum opened in 1913.
  • 1916: The Horne Museum (Florence). This museum is housed in a genuine 15th century palazzo, which was purchased by collector Herbert Horne in 1911. The museum was left to the Italian state after Herbert’s death. The collection includes works by Giotto, Simone Martini, and Filippino Lippi. Some information in English found HERE.
  • 1920: The Hallwyl Museum (Stockholm). Primarily the collection of Countess Wilhelmina von Hallwyl. Museum is located in the Hallwyl House, which served as the private residence for Count and Countess van Hallwyl. Collection was donated to the state in 1920.

 1921 – 1940

  • 1921: The Phillips Collection (Washington, DC). Collection of Duncan Phillips. Museum building was once Phillip’s residence. Founded 1921.
  • 1921: Sinebrychoff Art Museum (Helsinki, Finland). Collection of Paul Sinebrychoff. Collection donated to the state in 1921. The Sinebrychoff private residence (the current location of the museum) was bequeathed to the state in 1975.
  • 1922: The Barnes Foundation (originally located in Merion, Pennsylvania). Collection of Albert C. Barnes. Founded in 1922. I’m especially distraught over this museum, since the collection is currently being moved to a new location in Philadelphia. If you want to learn more about the situation involving the displacement of the Barnes Foundation, I’d recommend that you see the documentary The Art of the Steal.
  • 1924: The Morgan Library and Museum (New York). Although this institution (which became public in 1924) also includes a massive library, Morgan’s art collection is also on display. Some of Morgan’s acquisitions are both books and works of art, including the famous Lindau Gospels. The building was designed to house Morgan’s library, although several additions have been made to the complex (including Morgan’s mid-19th century brownstone house, which was added in 1988).
  • 1926: Freer Gallery of Art (Washington, DC). Collection of Charles Lang Freer. Construction begun in 1916, but gallery completion was delayed because of WWI. Gallery opened in 1926.
  • 1926: Benaki Museum (Athens). Collections of Antonis Benakis. Founded in 1926.
  • 1927: The Spada Gallery (Rome). Located in the Palazzo Spada, this collection includes 16th and 17th century paintings. The collection was largely amassed by Cardinal Bernardino Spada and his nephew, Virgilio Spada. Bernardino’s grandson, Fabrizio Spada, also added to the collection. Cardinal Spada had the Renaissance palace remodeled by Borromini in the 17th century. The Palazzo was purchased by the Italian state in 1927.
  • 1928: The Huntington Art Gallery (Pasadena, CA). Collection of Henry E. Huntington. Museum building was once Huntington’s residence. Opened in 1928.
  • 1932: Taft Museum of Art (Cincinnati, OH). Charles Taft donated his 690-item collection and his historic home, to the people of Cincinnati in 1927. After extensive remodeling and updating, the house was opened as a museum in 1932. The museum’s collection includes works from European and American masters, Chinese porcelains, and European decorative arts.
  • 1932: The Courtauld Gallery (London). Gallery is part of the Courtauld Institute of Art. The gallery’s art collection originally contained art that belonged to Samuel Courtauld, the founder of the Institute. Courtauld’s collection contained mostly French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works. Courtauld made a bequest to the Institute in 1948. The gallery collection has expanded to include works from several private collections, including the collection of Roger Fry (gallery received bequest following the art critic’s death in 1934).
  • 1935: Museé Nissim de Camondo (Paris). Collection of banker Moïse de Camondo. The museum is located in a mansion that was designed after the Petit Trianon in Versailles. Collection includes decorative arts, busts by Houdon, portraits by Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun, landscapes by Guardi and hunting scenes by Oudry.
  • 1935: Musée Marmottan Monet (Paris). Originally the collection of Paul Marmottan (which was partially inherited from his father, Christophe Edmond Kellermann, Duke of Valmy). Museum was bequeathed to the Académie des Beaux Arts. The museum location originally served as the hunting lodge for Christophe Edmond Kellermann and later the home of Paul Marmottan. The Academy opened the museum in 1935. Museum collection was expanded with a gift in 1957 (Impressionist collection once owned by Doctor Georges de Bellio) and in 1966 (the personal collection of Claude Monet, bequeathed by Monet’s son Michel Monet). Museum also houses a collection of illuminated manuscripts once owned by Daniel Wildenstein (who died in 2001).
  • 1935: The Frick Collection (New York City). Collection of  Henry Clay Frick. Museum is housed in the former home of Henry Clay Frick. Museum opened to the public in 1935.
  • 1936: The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (Sarasota, Florida). Collection of John and Mable Ringling. Museum functioned as the Ringling family’s private residence. Art collection, mansion, and estate were bequeathed to the state of Florida in 1936, at the death of John Ringling. This museum boasts an eclectic Baroque collection, among other things.
  • 1940: Maryhill Museum of Art (Goldendale, Washington). Collection of Sam Hill and Loïe Fuller. Construction of mansion (current location of museum) was begun in 1914 by owner Sam Hill. However, construction stopped in 1917. Work resumed in 1920s and 1930s, with the intent of turning the mansion into a museum. Museum opened to the public in 1940. This museum owns more than 80 works by Rodin.
  • 1940: Dumbarton Oaks (Washington DC). Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss. Museum also functioned as residence for the Bliss family. Institution dedicated and transferred to Harvard University in 1940.

1941 – 1960

  • 1944: The Burrell Collection (Glasgow). Collection of Sir William Burell, which contains over 8,000 objects. The collection is diverse; it includes medieval tapestries and paintings ranging from the Gothic era to the Impressionists. Chinese and Islamic art are also found in the collection.
  • 1947: The Waldemarsudde (Stockholm). Collection of Prince Eugen Waldemarsudde. The collection is housed in what once was the home of the prince. The Swedish government assumed responsibility for the collection in 1947, upon the prince’s death. The museum became a state-run part of the Agency Nationalmuseum in 1995.
  • 1949: The Gilcrease Museum (Tulsa, Oklahoma). From what I have read online, it looks like that collection was open for public view in 1949. The collection was given to the city of Tulsa in 1955.
  • 1951: Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Venice). Collection of Peggy Guggenheim. From 1951 Peggy opened up her home in Venice to the public during the summer months. Since Peggy’s death, the Guggenheim Foundation has turned her private home into the small museum of modern art.
  • 1952: Frye Art Museum (Seattle). Collection of Charles and Emma Frye. Collection contains late-19th and early-20th century European paintings.
  • 1956: Kettle’s Yard (Cambridge). Collection of H. S. “Jim “Ede. Museum was begun in 1956, after Jim Ede renovated four derelict cottages in Cambridge. Kettle’s Yard houses modern art.

1961 – 1980 

  • 1962: Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum (Cairo). The museum is located in a palace that was built in 1915. In addition to housing the museum collection, the palace also served to house government offices during the ’70s, ’80s, and beginning of the ’90s!
  • 1963: The Hyde Collection (Glen Falls, New York). The collection of Louis and Charlotte Hyde is displayed on the seven-acre family estate, which includes three adjoining revival-style homes. Collection contains works of art from antiquity to the present.
  • 1967: The Chester Beatty Library (Dublin). The museum is located in Dublin Castle. Collection includes books, manuscripts, miniatures, drawings and prints that were left to the Irish state. The collection has been described “as the finest collection of manuscripts and books made by a private collector in the 20th century.” Collection objects date from early Christian to modern times. There are also Islamic and Asian manuscripts/scrolls in the collection.
  • 1969: Gulbenkian Museum (Lisbon). Collection of Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian. Museum contains a large collection of over 6,000 pieces that dated from antiquity to the 20th century. For security measures, the collection was split up in the middle of the 20th century and sent to locations like the British Museum and the National Gallery in Washington DC. The collection was finally reunited in 1969 (after a lot of negotiation!), fourteen years after the death of the collector.
  • 1974-75: Norton Simon Museum (Pasadena, California). This museum has an interesting history, as it originally developed as the Pasadena Art Institute (1922) and then merged with the Pasadena Museum of Art (1942). Norton Simon took over financial control and naming rights for the museum in 1974-75. Simon was an art collector who was searching for a permanent house for his collection (which includes paintings of Impressionists and Old Masters). He was able to rescue the struggling Pasadena museum and find a house for his collection at the same time.
  • 1977: Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens (Washington DC). Collection of Marjorie Merriweather Post. Collection was bequeathed to the public in 1973, following Post’s death. The museum includes decorative arts from 18th century France and imperial Russian art.


  • 1986: Charleston Farmhouse (near Lewes, East Sussex, UK). This farmhouse served as the country home of the Bloomsbury Group. A Charleston Trust was established in 1980 to restore and maintain the home for public benefit. The collection has been open to the public since 1986.
  • 1986: The Johnston Collection (Melbourne). Collection of William Robert Johnston. Museum contains decorative arts and antiques. Currently, the museum is located in the Fairhall house museum. The W R Johnston trust was established in 1986 to preserve and develop the collection.
  • 1987: The Royal Collection (London, Edinburgh, and Windsor). This collection has been built (and continues to grow) under the patronage of the royal family. It was begun in the 17th century, under the direction of Charles I. The Royal Collection department (established 1987) manages the public opening of the Queen’s Galleries at Buckingham Palace. There are also are exhibitions held Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh and the Drawings Gallery at Windsor.
  • 1994: Estorick Collection (London). Collection belonged to Eric and Salome Estorick. This collection contains a lot of Italian art dating from 1890 to 1950 (with an emphasis on the Futurists). Eric Estorick died in 1993, and in 1994 a Georgian house was bought by the Eric and Salome Estorick Foundation.

"Smithsonian" magazine giveaway!

Last week I hit the “300th post” mark for Alberti’s Window. This is a big milestone for me! I’m so glad that I started this blog in 2007. Not only has this blog been a great way for me to organize my research and ideas, but I have gotten to collaborate and work with a lot of fantastic individuals in the process. Thanks to all of those who have worked with me along the way!

To celebrate, I wanted to have a little giveaway on this blog. I’m giving away two free 12-month subscriptions (11 issues) to Smithsonian magazine! I love Smithsonian; often articles from recent issues provide fodder for my post entries. Three of my favorite Smithsonian-inspired posts are: “What Old/Castaway Object Embodies You?”, “Can You Spot Jackson Pollock’s Name?”, and “Sympathy for Renoir.”

I will be randomly selecting the two subscription winners (using this site) on August 9, 2011. So you have just one week to enter this giveaway! You can enter your name up to four times. Here are the ways you can enter:
1) Leave a comment on this post!
2) Tweet about the giveaway (be sure to include my Twitter name: @albertis_window in your tweet, so I can find it). After tweeting, leave a comment on this post to let me know too, please.
3) Write about this giveaway on your own blog, and then include the URL in a comment on this post.
4) Become a follower of my blog (via Blogger – see sidebar on the left to join). Once you have become a follower (or, if you already are listed follower), leave a comment on this post.
Please make sure that you write a separate comment for each of your entries. I will write a post, announcing the two winners on August 9th. The winners will then have three days to contact me via email ( in order to claim the prize and give a mailing address. If a winner does not come forth by that time, I will then randomly select a new winner.
Unfortunately, I have to restrict this giveaway to readers who have mailing addresses in the United States. For all of my international readers – I promise to include you on another giveaway in the future!

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.