Pompeii Brochure Exposition

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    n at i o n a l g a l l e r y o a r t | o c t o b e r 1 9, 2 0 0 8 m a r c h 2 2 , 2 0 0 9

    Pompeii and the Roman Villaa r t a n d c u l t u r e a r o u n d t h e b ay o n a p l e s

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    beore mount vesuv ius erupted in ad 79 , the region

    o Campania around the Bay o Naples was an artistic center

    o great sophistication. Archaeological excavations have

    uncovered not only Pompeii (g. 1), Herculaneum, and other

    towns near Vesuvius, but also the remains o luxurious sea-

    side villas built or prominent Romans (g. 2). They were

    drawn to the bay by its beauty and thermal baths a legacy

    o its volcanic geology as well as the lingering Greek culture

    around Naples, a ormer Greek colony. The bays popularity

    as a resort or vacationing Romans brought extraordinary

    wealth to the area. Adding to its economic well-being was

    the emperor Augustus designation o the port o Puteoli

    (modern Pozzuoli, north o Naples) as the Italian entry pointor the enormous shipments o grain rom the province o

    Egypt. The wealth, coupled with the great demand or works

    o art to adorn the interior spaces and gardens o the vast

    maritime villas, attracted artists rom ar and wide. Many o

    them would also have ound clients among the well-to-do

    townspeople o Pompeii and Herculaneum who emulated the

    liestyles o the powerul elite. The art collections o both

    villa owners and residents o the nearby towns demonstrate

    their shared artistic tastes and cultural ideals, particularly a

    reverence or classical Greece, which was seen as a Golden Age.

    c: Garden scene,

    p, h

    g b, ,

    1 bc 1 -

    ad, uf s,

    p (, . 65)

    1. c Kk, The

    Forum at Pompeii with

    Vesuvius in the Background,

    1841, , t

    J. p g m,

    l a (. 150)

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    v illas , houses , and gardens

    Roman aristocrats began constructing villas on the bay in the

    second century bc. They retreated to these country estates,

    especially in spring and summer, to enjoy their leisure (otium)and escape rom the pressures o business (negotium) in Rome.

    Over the course o the next two centuries ruling amilies

    arrived as well. Julius Caesar, the rst emperor Augustus, and

    the emperors Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero all had

    residences on the bay. The presence o the imperial amilies

    led to increasing numbers o villas or Romans eager to urther

    their careers through access to the political elite in more relaxedsocial circumstances than was possible in Rome. So many villas

    were built along the bay that the ancient historian Strabo said

    they looked like one continuous city.

    The sumptuous villas had extensive gardens and elegant

    interior courtyards, some large enough to enclose a swimming

    pool. Their aades were lined with colonnaded walkways

    that oered the owners sweeping vistas o the sea, reached

    by terraces leading down to private harbors or pleasure boats.The houses orming the dense city blocks o Pompeii and

    Herculaneum turned a blank wall to the busy streets but

    nonetheless shared certain eatures with the seaside villas.

    In both, rooms were arranged around an atrium, which opened

    to the sky to bring light to the interior and allow rainwater

    to collect in a square basin (impluvium) set into the foor.

    Some townspeople emulated eatures o villa architectureon a smaller scale, adding colonnaded (peristyle) courtyards,

    baths, and interior gardens to their houses. According to

    Vitruvius, writing in the rst century ad, the residences

    o men o rank who, rom holding oces and magistracies,

    have social obligations to their ellow citizens, [need] loty

    entrance courts . . . . and most spacious atriums and peristyles . . . .

    The rules on these points will hold not only or houses in

    2. Two seaside villas,

    p, 1 bc

    1 ad, ,

    m a

    nz n (. 2)

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    town, but also or those in

    the country. . . (On Architecture

    6.5.23).

    The interiors o the

    villas and many Pompeianhouses were lavishly deco-

    rated, their walls sheathed

    with colorul rescoes repre-

    senting mythological scenes,

    landscapes with views o the

    bay and the villas lining its shores, and still lies celebrating

    local delicacies rom the sea and the land made ertile by its

    rich volcanic soil. Furnishings included marble tables (g. 3)and bronze lampstands, some even in the orm o statues.

    In the grander houses, diners drank wine rom silver cups

    decorated with olives (g. 4), vine leaves, or amous episodes

    rom amiliar myths. Sculpted portraits o amily members

    or ancestors, set up in reception areas, would have reminded

    guests o the lineage o their hosts.

    Gardens in and around the villas were accented withaviaries, ountains, and marble or bronze gurines that

    spurted water into pools and watercourses. Houses in Pom-

    peii were generally much smaller, but townspeople shared

    the villa owners love o gardens. Even in modest houses, a

    little garden might be tucked into the courtyard and embel-

    lished with sculpture. I the spaces were too tight or actual

    gardens, plants could be painted on the walls. The painted

    3. Two table supports,

    p, h g

    c r, 1 -

    ad, , uf

    s, p (. 15)

    4. Kantharos entwined with

    olive branches, p,h m,

    1 bc, ,

    m a

    nz n

    (. 29)

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    gardens visually expanded small ones, as in the so-called

    House o the Golden Bracelet where rescoes o fowering

    shrubs, birds, and ountains adjoined the real garden behind

    the house (cover).

    Garden sculpture oten represents rustic subjects,

    including wild animals, or Dionysos, god o wine, with his

    rowdy entourage o satyrs and maenads. Such works suggest

    the wilder side o nature while taming it or the owners plea-

    sure. Portraits o Greek thinkers and writers were also set up

    in gardens, which, like libraries, were places or contemplation

    and learning echoes o the pastoral setting o Platos Academy,

    depicted in a mosaic rom a house in Pompeii that shows

    Plato surrounded by philosophers at his school in a groveoutside Athens (g. 5).

    legacy o greece

    The region around the Bay o Naples had been colonized by

    Greeks as early as the eighth century bc. The city o Neapolis

    (modern Naples) was ounded around 600bc and did not

    become a Roman municipality until 89bc. Like other cities

    around the bay, it still retained its Greek character ater being

    absorbed into the Roman sphere. The Greek favor was evident

    even in the streets where some Romans sported Greek dress

    rather than the togas worn in Rome.

    The Roman conquest o Greece in 146bc spurred a

    ascination with the countrys illustrious past as well as the

    looting o masterpieces o Greek art, which victorious Roman

    generals brought back to Italy to adorn public and privatespaces at home. The reverence or Greece, viewed as the

    repository o culture, beauty, and

    wisdom, culminated in the emperor

    Augustus intent to revive during his

    reign (27bcad14) the glories o

    ancient Athens under the leadership

    o Pericles in the th century bc. In

    the words o the poet Horace, Captive

    Greece took captive her savage con-

    queror and brought civilization to the

    rustic Latins.

    Greek infuence pervaded the

    decor o the villas around the Bay o

    Naples and the houses o the elite in

    5. Platos Academy, p-

    , v t. s

    s, 1

    bc 1 ad,

    , m a- nz n

    (. 95)

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    Pompeii and Herculaneum. For their owners, knowledge o

    Greek culture was a status symbol and mark o renement

    that was refected in the works o art they acquired. A portrait

    o Homer (g. 6) or relies depicting episodes rom the Trojan

    War conveyed their appreciation o Greek history. Busts o the

    ourth-century bc playwright Menander suggested their enthu-

    siasm or Athenian theater; and likenesses o the Greek philos-

    opher Epicurus, who believed that pleasure is inherently good

    and leads to happiness, attested to their amiliarity with his

    hedonistic teachings.

    Dining rooms or triclinia so called because they con-

    tained three couches on which diners reclined while eat-

    ing were oten painted with scenes rom Greek mythology.Excavations at the site o Moregine, south o Pompeii, have

    uncovered an intriguing building complex, perhaps a villa,

    perhaps an inn or the headquarters o a business. Frescoed on

    the walls o one o its dining rooms are images o the god

    Apollo, patron o the liberal arts, fanked by the muses (g. 7).

    Their presence would have reminded guests o the pleasures

    o intellectual and creative conversation, the ideal at any

    Roman banquet.

    Many Romans living near the Bay o Naples were avid

    art collectors who prized copies ater Greek old masters.

    So many versions oThe Three Graces (no. 110) survive that

    they must stem rom a amous prototype, now lost. The

    portrait o an athlete rom the Villa dei Papiri near Hercula-

    neum (g. 8) echoes a ourth-century bc sculpture by Lysip-

    pos, while the statue o a youth rom a Po