Yesterday, I visited the Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire / Koninklijke musea voor kunst en geschiedenis in Brussels, one of my favorite museums in Belgium. I have been there quite often, but this was the first time that all the departments were open – including the National Archaeology department and the new department of Ancient Near Eastern Art.
The last-mentioned section is a sufficient reason to visit Brussels. There are splendid objects from all over the ancient Near East, including a relief from Naram-Sin, a Sasanian helmet, Palmyrene funerary busts, an astronomical map from Uruk, and a nice little tablet on which someone has written a multiplication table.
The department is, from a museological point of view, state of the art, which is perhaps a mixed blessing: the room is dark and the objects are shown in spotlights. Usually, this is disastrous: you can see the objects only from one point of view. However, the circular displays enable you to move around them, which removes this disadvantage.
The Greek, Roman, and Egyptian departments have not really changed over the past years, although I was unable to find again the nice case with ancient coins. They are quiet, spacious rooms, where you can study the objects at your leisure. One of the highlights is the model of ancient Rome, comparable to the more famous model in Rome’s Museo nazionale della civiltà romana. The mosaics from Apamea are another reason to go there.
The best thing to say is, furthermore, that photography is now permitted – you needed to have a permit and were not allowed to publish those photos. I am very glad that the museum has changed this policy: not only is it not enforceable in an age in which anyone can take a photo with a telephone, but the best way to raise interest in a museum’s collection is to make it as accessible as possible. People will now show photos to each other and tell them how nice this or that museum was. This little article is just one example of that word-of-mouth marketing.