Museum Secrets is a six-part television series where viewers are invited into the world’s greatest museums to uncover surprising stories and revealing secrets. Premiering on Canada’s History Network on January 6, the Kensington Communications production plans to air internationally later this year.
Many medieval and ancient history treasures will be featured in these episodes, such as a medieval parchment that reveals the true story behind the fall of the Knights Templar and a forensic examination on an Egyptian mummy solves the murder of a mighty Pharaoh.
Museum Secrets takes viewers behind the scenes into hidden places that visitors are rarely allowed to see, such as a storeroom where hordes of creatures float suspended in formaldehyde; a workshop where curators piece bones together into impressive dinosaur skeletons; and the deepest, darkest corners off the beaten tourist track. Interviews with scientists and historians offer candid viewpoints on a wide variety of topics. Through hands-on experiments and situational recreations, experts answer the often-surprising riddles of our past.
Museum Secrets Producer, Steve Gamester said, “One of our goals was to have a variety of objects and stories. Paintings make up only a small portion of the treasures covered in Museum Secrets and the series is not driven by art history.You are never going to see a scene featuring a curator in a tweed jacket talking about the use of colour and shading in a painting. Not that there is anything wrong with tweed, but we wanted Museum Secrets to be a series that broke through some of the stereotypes many people have about museums, that they are highbrow and boring. We wanted to show viewers that these places are filled with objects that link us to the most dramatic and consequential stories and characters in the history of the world.”
Fans of the show will find web exclusive secrets, video, and short, interactive experiences of hands-on history that delve deeper into the stories they see in each episode. A unique web interface called The Navigator lets visitors see secrets of the past swim before their eyes. From this mysterious and evocative world of objects, they can collect their favourites and save them to a personalized “My Discoveries” page, create annotations, and share their page with friends. The series web site also provides links to high quality streaming video of full broadcast episodes on History.ca.
The website launches just prior to the series premiere at http://www.museumsecrets.tv
The show’s creators came across many fascinating aspects of the places they filmed, such as Producer Robert Lang’s experience at Rome’s Sistine Chapel: “The Sistine Chapel is such an iconic space and like millions of others, I had gazed up at the ceiling and marveled at the beautiful frescos, but I didn’t know the story of the battle of wits between the two men most responsible for it: the artist who painted it, Michelangelo, and the Pope who commissioned it, Julius II. Their arguments were so heated that at one point the Pope actually physically struck Michelangelo with his staff, but in the end the artist got the last laugh and painted what he wanted. Everyone from Mick Jagger to Damien Hirst owes a debt to Michelangelo for that. He was the first major artist to demand and get creative freedom. Today, very few people know the name Julius II, but everyone remembers Michelangelo.”
Here are the synopses of the show’s six episodes:
The Vatican (Thurs., Jan. 6 at 10pm ET/PT)
We climb a scaffold to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to discover the secret of Michelangelo’s genius and why he feuded with the Pope. We hunt for the miscreants who defaced a Raphael masterpiece with hate filled graffiti. The censor who was responsible for putting fig leaves on penises is revealed and a visit to the Vatican’s Secret Archives uncovers the true story of the Knights Templar.
The Louvre (Thurs., Jan. 13 at 10pm ET/PT)
The secrets of the Mona Lisa are unveiled – the brazen theft and how it became the most famous painting in history. The official portrait of Napoleon’s coronation is scrutinized to reveal a canvas of lies. We re-stage the freak jousting accident that killed a French king and find out whether modern medicine could have saved him. And we probe a king’s murder to discover if the assailant was a lone assassin or in league with a conniving queen.
Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum (Thurs., Jan. 20 at 10pm ET/PT)
A tiny Egyptian baby mummy is unwrapped to find out how it died 2000 years ago. Two theories are tested to determine whether 12th Century Islamic vessels were bongs or bombs. A dinosaur lost for decades within the museum’s walls is pieced together into the colossal skeleton of a Barosaurus. The great-great grandson of Sitting Bull is brought into the museum to discern whether the museum’s prized Sioux headdress belonged to his illustrious ancestor. And finally, the stuffed remains of a 1930s prize-winning bulldog are examined to uncover a disturbing revelation about the dangers of unnatural selection.
Cairo’s Egyptian Museum (Thurs., Jan. 27 at 10pm ET/PT)
We search for the lost tomb of Ramesses the Great, then, we recreate the last violent moments of an ancient king to discover if he was a brave or cowardly man. We visit the stomping grounds of Indiana Jones to discover how a poor Pharaoh amassed a hoard of gold to rival King Tut, and enter an underground animal necropolis to find out why ancient Egyptians mummified cats, baboons and falcons by the millions. Cryptic inscriptions discovered on a pyramid’s capstone reveal the secret of the pyramid’s spiritual power, and King Khufu’s pyramid is searched for his true likeness in a chamber that includes a locked, unopened door.
London’s Natural History Museum (Thurs., Feb. 3 at 10pm ET/PT)
An old skull is examined to discover if prehistoric Brits were cannibals and a killer shark is pulled from a pool of formaldehyde to find out how its genetic makeup helped swimmers win Olympic gold in Sydney. We dare a curator to handle a famous gem said to curse all who touch it, and then enter a once top-secret room where WWII spymasters created a bomb that came within a hair of killing Hitler. And we evaluate a perfectly preserved specimen of a Dodo, to discover whether the flightless bird’s extinction was really as inevitable as we have been led to believe.
New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (Thurs., Feb. 10 at 10pm ET/PT)
The armor of Henry VIII is examined to help shed light on why he got so fat and crazy, then enter New York high-society to reveal the role a nude sculpture played in a brutal murder. Inside a vast Egyptian temple (enclosed within the museum’s walls), a secret chamber is searched to discover why the temple’s statues celebrate the foreign emperor who conquered the land of the Pharaohs. We touch the Holy Grail (or maybe not) to discover what gives religious relics their power, then discover how a museum curator invented modern body armour. And finally, in a lab equipped with the latest NASA technology, we discover how museum scientists use art to solve mysteries of the past and present.