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Small exhibition

on display to 1 September 2019

Age-old wonder about Southern Italian temple ruins

The exhibition can be found in the Muzezaal, the small exhibition room directly left after the entrance gates.

The exhibition Experiencing Paestum shows the experiences and wonder of artists, writers and architects who were the first Western Europeans to visit the impressive ancient ruins of Paestum (Southern Italy) some 300 years ago. Paestum, site of the oldest and best-preserved Greek temples on Italian soil, has provoked countless conflicting reactions since its rediscovery in 1740. Travellers thought the ruins were incomprehensible and strange, yet also fascinating and impressive. Paestum quickly became a hotly debated subject.

Drawings, engravings, models, excerpts from travel journals and letters

Architects, artists, writers and poets described Paestum in travel journals and letters, and depicted the three temples in sketches, drawings, engravings, paintings, models and publications. Initial incomprehension, disappointment and confusion evolved into a general and clear consensus about the value of the temples.

Discovery, surprise and admiration

The exhibition shows that the perception of the place itself was crucial in understanding the architecture of Paestum. You follow visitors on their journey of discovery to and through the temples, and learn of their initial surprise and subsequent exploration of the temples, and finally their admiration.

Visitors of Paestum: Goethe, Piranesi, and more

You can see the first sublime and picturesque accounts of eighteenth-century visitors such as Goethe, the movement through the temples by Piranesi, and the depiction of Paestum in books and models. Finally, you see how Dutch writers as for example Couperus and Vosmaer, and photographers of the likes of Cas Oorthuys and Ata Kandó experienced the site in later times.

Guest curator

The exhibition is based on the PhD thesis of guest curator Dr Sigrid de Jong (Leiden University). She researched the influence of Paestum’s ruins on eighteenth-century thought and architectural experience. Her thesis Rediscovering Architecture. Paestum in Eighteenth-Century Architectural Experience and Theory has been published by Yale University Press and is available at the bookshop of the museum.


In the exhibition loans can be seen from Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, the Nederlands Foto Museum, University Library Leiden, Gent University Library, UvA University Library and private collections, as well as objects from the museum’s own collection.

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