By Kenneth Hudson
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Additional resources for A Social History of Museums: What the Visitors Thought
4 They were anxious to avoid being didactic. For this reason there was to be no 'cynical simplicity', but rather a calculated splendour 'which could communicate to the observer the concept of reverence which should be paid to the masterpieces of antiquity'. In the Glyptothek, atmosphere was more important than facts. There were no descriptive labels or catalogues, no seats and no rails to keep visitors away from the exhibits. The attendants were dressed in magnificent liveries, to make it clear that this was no ordinary place, and on A Social History of Museums occasional evenings the King entertained special guests to refreshments and led them on a torchlight tour round the galleries.
Obstupui, hie Superum, hie hominum, prodigia vidi, Pontus, Magna Parens, Ignis et Ipse favent. 0 America! 0 felix tell us, populusque beat us! Quam nobis tollunt dant tibi fata vicem. A more conventional kind of comment came in the following year from the English traveller,James Silk Buckingham. 'I made several visits to the Museum,' he wrote, 'and was, on each occasion, abundantly gratified. The articles are well arranged, and kept in excellent order, and there is never so great a crowd of visitors as to prevent the careful and uninterrupted examination of any article at leisure.
Peale's tastes were exceedingly catholic. Among the hundreds of items added to his collection between I 790 and I 792 were a chicken with four legs and four wings, an So-pound turnip, the trigger-finger of a convicted murderer, and a tiny piece of wood from the Coronation chair in Westminster Abbey. The success of the appeal for new exhibits proved something of an embarrassment and Peale realised that his museum, if it were to survive, would have to be transformed into something much more like a public institution.
A Social History of Museums: What the Visitors Thought by Kenneth Hudson