One theme of the exhibition is the tension between modesty and extravagance, Apollonian restraint and Dionysian indulgence. (As Kenneth Lapatin notes in a catalog essay, the Latin term luxuria derives from the verb luxor, to sprain or dislocate.) Cato the Elder and other moralists cautioned against the excessive display of wealth, but their words had more traction in the city of Rome than in the villas along the Bay of Naples.
A highlight of the exhibition is a triclinium, or open dining room, from the site of Moregine, on the outskirts of Pompeii. Its frescoes, found in 1959 and excavated in 1999-2000, depict Apollo, the god of learning, and his muses — figures intended to stimulate properly intellectual dinner conversation.
As in a typical villa, the dining area overlooks a set of “gardens” decorated with Dionysian sculpture: wild animals, maenads, satyrs, even a hermaphrodite. Nearby, a bronze shows Dionysus’s pudgy and intoxicated companion, Silenos, astride a wineskin. Ancient Romans could recline on the triclinium’s long benches, discussing music, literature and other refined topics, while contemplating a vista of ecstatic abandon.
Further proof of indulgence can be found in jewelry and smaller decorative objects. An intricate emerald necklace and a set of pearl earrings, excavated in the late 1980s at the Villa at Oplontis, are among the treasures on view. They were discovered, along with several skeletons, in a room at the front of the villa — an indication that people tried to wear or carry their most valuable possessions as they fled the eruption.
Larger sculptures and furnishings reflect the passion of educated, well-off Romans for all things Greek. As the Roman poet Horace summarized: “Captured Greece took captive her savage conqueror and brought civilization to rustic Latium.” A bust of Homer, statues and mosaics of Alexander the Great and a gladiator helmet embossed with scenes from the Iliad are a few of the relevant archaeological finds.
Whether purchasing antiquities or commissioning reproductions from local artists, elite Romans gave little regard to the original context of Greek sculpture. Archaic and classical works were displayed side by side, and deities that might have served a ritual function in ancient Greece were reincarnated as home décor. In one of many examples in the exhibition, a bronze statue in the style of a kouros doubles as a trayholder.
The illusion of antiquity could be enough to fool a collector or impress a houseguest. Another bronze kouros sculpture, a bust, has an irregular lower edge that gives it the appearance of a fragment of a full-length statue.
Abruptly concluding the villa tour, the exhibition, which will travel after its stay at the National Gallery to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, takes a morbid but fascinating turn, jumping ahead to the 18th-century rediscovery of Pompeii and the site’s subsequent hold on the popular imagination. A 10-minute historical video on the eruption of Vesuvius, which includes footage from “Spartacus” and other Hollywood films about ancient Rome, eases the transition.
In the next few galleries, paintings and sculptures echoing Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1834 novel, “The Last Days of Pompeii,” show Romans panicking and collapsing, as Vesuvius spews ash and flame. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the still active volcano was a popular stop on the Grand Tour and a fixture in paintings by British and French artists like Joseph Wright and Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes.
In an 1813 painting by Valenciennes featured in the exhibition, Pliny the Elder and his nephew Pliny the Younger witness the eruption from the beach at Stabiae. (The elder Pliny died during the day’s events; the younger survived to give a remarkable account of the event in a letter to the historian Tacitus.)
Also on display are ephemera from the tourist economy that developed around Pompeii; these include photographs of casts made by pouring plaster into the cavities left by decayed bodies. It is easy to see how these nauseating artifacts might have appealed to death-obsessed Victorians.
On a more materialist level, the lure of Pompeii is best depicted in “The Sculpture Gallery” (1874), a painting by the 19th-century British artist Lawrence Alma-Tadema (a successful painter of Classical ruins and an associate of the Pre-Raphaelites.) In this ostentatious scene the artist portrays himself and his family as ancient Romans examining works of art for possible purchase.
The painting, and the exhibition, each make the point: every culture finds affirmation of its taste and sophistication in a previous golden age.Continue reading the main story
The Private and Public Leisure Activities of Pompeii and Herculaneum
1237 Words5 Pages
The private and public leisure activities of Pompeii and Herculaneum
The private and public leisure activities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were largely abundant. Many activities could be participated in and were used often. These include Drama performances, gladiatorial games, drinking, gambling, brothels, exercise, gardens, baths and food and dining. All these were an important part of Pompeian and Herculaneum life. They were seen as important to keep the body and mind healthy in most cases. Though some opposed some of the activities like brothels, gambling and drinking. But all give a important look into the life of those in Pompeii and Herculaneum before the catastrophic eruption of Vesuvius which completely destroyed…show more content…
The private and public leisure activities of Pompeii and Herculaneum
The private and public leisure activities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were largely abundant. Many activities could be participated in and were used often. These include Drama performances, gladiatorial games, drinking, gambling, brothels, exercise, gardens, baths and food and dining. All these were an important part of Pompeian and Herculaneum life. They were seen as important to keep the body and mind healthy in most cases. Though some opposed some of the activities like brothels, gambling and drinking. But all give a important look into the life of those in Pompeii and Herculaneum before the catastrophic eruption of Vesuvius which completely destroyed both towns and all its inhabitants.
There were two theatres at Pompeii used for a variety of purposes. One of these includes drama performances. The two theatres held a large number of patrons. The largest held 5000 people while the smaller once called the Odeon held approximately 1500 people. The types of performances that where held were usually tragedies, comedies and farces. They took place in the larger theater usually during religious celebrations and in celebration of achievements.. The larger theatre was designed for comfort in mind with facilities for an awning on days that where very hot. Historians including Paul Zanker and Richard Beacham suggest that the theatres of Pompeii were as much as a