University of Cambridge Museums

Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums

Casts by Candlelight

One evening back in October here in the Museum of Classical Archaeology, we turned the lights down low. We strategically placed candles and tealights (battery operated, of course) around our sculptures. And our staff took up their lanterns, ready to greet the public.

Casts-by-Candlelight-picWe had decided to open the Museum for a unique opportunity for visitors to view our casts by candlelight in this after-hours, adult-focused event. Far from being a gimmick, this event was our attempt to recreate the candlelit tours taken by those privileged enough to be shown around the Vatican, and other such museums, by torchlight while gallivanting round Europe on the Grand Tour in the 18th century. These tours ushered in a whole new way of viewing sculpture: a chance to focus on one single statue, free from the distraction of those displayed around it; a chance to focus on certain details, directing the gaze with the light of your candle; a chance to breathe life into cold marble with a flickering flame; or a chance to get up close and personal with your favourite Aphrodite. This event was held in conjunction with the recent exhibition “Following Hercules: the Story of Classical Art”, which was on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum but urged viewers to continue that story here at the Museum of Classical Archaeology.

Visitors were able to explore the Museum at their leisure with a glass of wine, but were also given the opportunity to sign up for tours led by our Curator and Education & Outreach Coordinator. In our tours, we shared with visitors some of the sculptures most popular with the Grand Tourists: the Laocoon, the Belvedere Toro and the Apollo Belvedere, to name but a few. With our lanterns in hand, we aimed to recreate the experience enjoyed by those Tourists, by spotlighting the finer details so often overlooked.

We were thrilled to hear so many positive comments from our visitors that night about the chance to see our casts in a completely different way. The evening was not without its challenges: welcoming over 300 visitors into our small, modestly staffed Museum in three hours was certainly tricky, and would not have been possible without our team of wonderful volunteers and invigilators. We could not have imagined that this event would be quite so popular and that we would even have people queuing outside the door to get in! This was, however, a great chance to experiment with our events offering for adults and to try out new and more creative ways of engaging with them.

Jennie Thornber, Education and Outreach Coordinator, Museum of Classical Archaeology

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