Museums and monuments

World news stories covering the restoration of the Mausoleum of Augusts (Rome), the restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece (Belgium), and a sculpture of the capital of the Kingdom of Ghana.

Roman restoration

The Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome reopened to visitors this March following a major restoration project. In 28 BC, well in advance of his death, the 30-year-old Augustus began work on a vast mausoleum in the Campus Martius area. This impressive circular structure was to house the emperor’s ashes after his death in AD 14, and also the ashes of other members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, with two notable exceptions: Augustus’s daughter Julia and the emperor Nero.

Beyond antiquity, the mausoleum was converted into a castle by the Colonna princes (then destroyed by Pope Gregory IX in 1241), into hanging gardens, and even into an amphitheatre, but fell into disrepair after it was closed off in the 1930s.

Ghent’s glory

Another restoration project, this time in Belgium, has seen the Ghent Altarpiece by brothers Jan and Hubert Van Eyck displayed in a new location inside St Bavo’s Catherdral.

PHOTO: © www.artinflanders.be, Cedric Verhel.

The famous 15th-century altarpiece, with its central panel of the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, has moved around several times in its history. In 1794, it was taken to the Louvre in Paris after the French Revolution – and returned to Ghent after the Battle of Waterloo – and during the Second World War it was stolen by Hitler and spirited away to salt mines in the Austrian Alps, from which it was recovered by the Monuments Men.

Now it is in the Sacrament Chapel of St Bavo’s Cathedral (opposite). The cathedral’s crypt has been extensively adapted and transformed into a visitor centre, the starting point of a new Ghent Altarpiece experience, featuring augmented reality, and parts of the building’s walls have been demolished and redesigned to make more of the historic site accessible to visitors.

Medieval future

The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto recently acquired Kumbi Saleh 3020 CE (right), a monumental sculpture by Ghanaian-Canadian artist Ekow Nimako made of approximately 100,000 black Lego blocks. The work looks to the past of the thriving medieval trading hub and capital of the Kingdom of Ghana, Kumbi Saleh (now in Mauritania), and reimagines it as a futuristic metropolis.

PHOTO: © Connie Tsang.

The piece was originally part of a show commissioned by the museum in 2019 as a creative response to an exhibition on Saharan trade, Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time. Writing in his artist’s statement in 2019, Nimako said, ‘In both concept and aesthetic, the piece represents an uninterrupted, uncooped narrative of Black civilisations that seeks to reclaim histories, reconcile ancestral traumas, and imagine liberated futures for all African peoples.’