For a Roman history buff, The National Museum would probably be fascinating. But for me, there were only a few standout things to see here, and if I had missed it completely, I wouldn’t have felt bad. Still, the things we saw were worth seeing.
The best thing about this museum was that it wasn’t crowded, and we got in free with our Roma pass. (Although I might have saved my other free admission to use somewhere else, had I known this museum wouldn’t thrill me) We spent about 2 hours here before heading on to Vatican City.
Following our Rick Steves guidebook, we saw the things that were interesting to us and didn’t waste time on things that weren’t. You can get a sort of synopsis of Roman history in the form of portrait busts and statues of emperors and gods dating from about 500 BC to about 300 AD. Much of the Greek influence on Rome is evident here in the copies of Greek statues that Romans adopted.
We breezed past the busts of emperors, noting what is thought to be Julius Ceasar and another one that we thought looked like “Voldemort”. (These busts were supposed to be realistic and not idealized like the Greek busts. Man, some of these guys were ugly!)
My two favorite statues in this museum were first,
The Boxer (first century, BC) because there is so much emotion in his face and body language, and second,
The Discus Thrower (Roman copy of Greek original by Myron, 450 BC) because it is just an amazing and beautiful depiction of the human body in motion. If I’d been an emperor’s wife, I’d have put these two guys in my garden courtyard! (I’d have to include Bernini’s David, too, but I’ll get to him later).
We made a quick scan of the mosaics and frescoes on the second floor. These were very beautiful and had meticulous detail in them. I especially liked the frescoes from Livia’s villa.
The coin collection in the basement was worth a brief look, too. A coin collector could spend hours there, but once you’ve seen one emperor’s face (or his wife’s) on a coin, you’ve pretty much seen them all.