Marengo Museum: opening weekend, 12 – 13 June, 2010

Author(s) : HICKS Peter
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Marengo Museum: opening weekend, 12 – 13 June, 2010
The Marengo Museum courtyard


After ten years of planning, Saturday 12 June saw the official opening of the Marengo Museum in the Villa Delavo, a country house built near the battlefield of Marengo on the outskirts of Alessandria, the key strategic town and citadel in the plains of Piedmont (Italy).

Marengo Museum

<i>Napoleon ‘morphs’ before your very eyes…</i>” /> <BR>One of the principal features of this new museum, of which the Fondation Napoleon is a <A class=texteIntro href=partner, is that it contains almost no period objects. In this sense it is a new breed of museum, one involving not curatorship, conservation and the fine arts, but rather the presentation of history, in this case that of the key moment in European history which was the Battle of Marengo. It is in the fullest sense a museum of history.

A modern approach

<i>The</i> Ville des Victoires<i>, large model map and "Look and find" exhibits for children</i>” /> <BR>And since it has no objects, the museum is free to retell the history using all the tools of the modern digital world, stimulating the eyes, ears, and fingers. This liberation from the constraints of “the exhibit” allows a much more sophisticated approach than is customary. Here video screens placed side-by-side recount the campaign alternately from the French and Austrian viewpoints, here an animation projected onto a table top shows the movements of the French and Austrian troops, <A class=texteIntro href=here famous paintings of Napoleon are presented and morphed, here the architectural plans and elevations of a commemorative “city of victories” or “Ville des Victoires” (preserved at the French army archives) have been digitally modelled to show visitors what this city/monument could have looked like. But the new elements are not just computerised. There are muskets to cock and fire, shakoes to try on, telescopes to look down, and younger visitors have a special visit all of their own, organised around a series of themed discovery boxes. This is a museum for everyone, from the specialist through to the casual tourist.

The opening day

<i>Paolo Filippi, President of the Province of Alessandria, officially opens the museum</i>” /> <BR>The museum, which was funded not only by the Province of Alessandria but also by local bank foundations, namely the <EM>Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Alessandria</EM>, the <EM>Fondazione CRT </EM>and the <EM>Fondazione CARIGE</EM>, was officially opened by President of the Province of Alessandria, Paolo Filippi, and speeches were made by Charles Napoléon, descendant of Napoleon and president of the European Federation of Napoleonic Cities, and Vicepresident and Assessore alla Cultura, Maria Rita Rossa. Earlier in the day, the designer and prime mover of the museum, Giulio Massobrio, led invited guests on an inaugural visit.<!-- /paragraph4 --></p>
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<h2>The evocation</h2>
<p><img src=evocation of the battle was staged by re-enactors from Italy, France and the Czech Republic (both external links). And it was also possible to visit camps of the rival armies, where camp followers cooked over open fires and off-duty soldiers played the fife, cards or just simply lay asleep. The evocation was particularly successful in the graphic portrayal of the double nature of the Battle of Marengo; that is, an Austrian victory throughout most of the day followed by a surprise French victory at the end. The thousands of viewers around the battlefield could really understand how surprised the Austrian army must have been at the end of the day to realise that they had in fact lost the encounter.

History as entertainment

<i>A history lesson without knowing it…</i>” /> <BR>This form of museum/spectacle is clearly the way forward. Large number of visitors had an excellent and varied day out. And they came away having been taught a history lesson almost without noticing it. Some day all museums will be made this way.<!-- /paragraph6 --></p>
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