While living in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts has many attractions, it”s great to be only about 2 hours away from Boston by car. I try to take advantage of museum exhibits there fairly regularly, and it”s even better when one of my friends closer to Boston suggests a museum visit – we get to catch up on each other”s latest news and talk about what we”re seeing that day as well!
Last month, my friend, Mary Pat, suggested that we meet at the Museum of Science to see the Pompeii exhibit, “A Day in Pompeii.” I have not been to other Pompeii exhibits (the National Gallery of Art”s “Pompeii and the Roman Villa” in 2009 was one I had wanted to go to…), so this was a first for me.
The stark reminder of what happened to Pompeii and the surrounding area in 24 hours in 79 A.D. is compelling; seeing frescoes and decorative objects that have survived over 2000 years was amazing.
The exhibit has now closed in Boston, but here”s a short video about the exhibit:
Being more science-focused, the exhibit had plenty of information on the 79 A.D. volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvias that captured Pompeii, as a moment in time. Apparently, despite earthquakes (in AD 63 for example) and other signs in and around the Bay of Naples, that today, we would have taken as evidence that a serious eruption was likely, the ancient Romans didn”t make the connection of earthquakes with volcanic eruptions (www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/pompeii_portents_01.shtml#two):
“The Pompeians in August 79, far from abandoning their city, or fretting about earthquakes as portents of future destruction, were thus tenaciously repairing their city, and trying to carry on with life as usual. There was every reason to: the economy of the Bay was booming, with the great port of Puteoli as one of the biggest nodes of Mediterranean trade, and the holiday villas of the rich bringing constant investment.”
Archeological excavations began on Pompeii in the mid-1700″s. The interiors of the residences of Pompeii interest me the most, and seeing some of the mosaics and frescoes at the Museum of Science exhibit encouraged me to get a few books from the library about Pompeii.
What I show below are some examples of frescoes found during the different decorative styles identified from the 2nd century B.C. to 79 A.D in Pompeii.
“The wall paintings in Pompeii were executed using the fresco technique, by which the basic outline of the composition was prepared and the colours were then added to the fresh plaster so that, by penetrating inwards, the overall painting would last longer. This greater resistance to the effects of time and wear is due to the protection of a transparent film of calcium carbonate that is formed by the reaction between the slaked lime in the plaster and the air.”
There were 4 decorative styles or schemes identified in Pompeii: the First Style, with “…decorative masonry consisting of stones mortared into a wall,” popular from the 2nd century, B.C. until 80 B.C. based on similar Greek installations. (Note – details of the 4 decorative styles are quoted from the book “Secrets of Pompeii: Everyday Life in Ancient Rome” by Emidio De Albentiis, pages 155-168.) Each of these decorative styles was strongly influenced by Rome and its emperors. This categorization of styles was determined by a 19th century historian, August Mau.
This style was followed by the Second Style, (80 B.C. to approx. 20 A.D.) which seemed to be related to theatrical scenery, and
“…animated the wall with fictive architecture, landscape scenes, or both into which were inserted disparate decorative elements such as masks, vases and small pictures with illusionistic shutters.
The Third Style, (20 B.C. to 20 A.D.) was characterized by “…large fields of a single color and a gradual disappearance of perspectival elements.”
What I found most compelling were the frescoes with nature as their themes, which were also part of the Third Style:
And next blog post…back to mantels!
Excellent post! Keep up the good work!
I’ve always admired and been inspired by the frescoes of Pompeii; I’m impressed by your description of this exhibition. Thank you!
Thanks, Tamara – it was a lovely exhibition to see!