WASHINGTON, DC.- Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples presents some 150 works of sculpture, painting, mosaic, and luxury arts, most of them created before the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. They include recent discoveries on view in the U.S. for the first time and celebrated finds from earlier excavations. Exquisite objects from the richly decorated villas along the shores of the Bay of Naples and from houses in the nearby towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum reveal the breadth and richness of cultural and artistic life, as well as the influence of classical Greece on Roman art and culture in this region.
The first exhibition devoted to ancient Roman art at the National Gallery of Art will premiere in Washington October 19, 2008, through March 22, 2009, and travel to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, May 3 through October 4, 2009.
We are honored to bring this exhibition of exquisite archaeological treasures for a five-month stay in the nations capital, which is itself a monumental and living tribute to our Greek and Roman heritage, said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. We are also very grateful to lenders from around the world and, in particular the region of Campania, as well as to the many sponsors and supporters who have enabled the Gallery to present this landmark exhibition of Roman art and to offer a variety educational programs to our visitors.
In the first century BC, the picturesque Bay of Naples became a favorite retreat for vacationing emperors, senators, and other prominent Romans. They built lavish seaside villas in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius where they could indulge in absolute leisure, read and write, exercise, enjoy their gardens and the views, and entertain friends.
Artists, who came to this region from as far away as Greece, created sculpture, paintings, mosaics, and luxury arts to adorn the lavish seaside villas. Many of them would also have found patrons in the nearby towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum (modern Ercolano) who emulated the lifestyles of the powerful elite. Julius Caesar, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero owned seaside villas in Baiae (modern Baia); the emperor Augustus vacationed in Surrentum (modern Sorrento), Capreae (modern Capri), and Pausilypon (modern Posillipo); and the lawyer Cicero had homes at Cumae (modern Cuma) and Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli) as well as in Pompeii.
Drawn from the collections of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, and from site museums at Pompeii, Boscoreale, Torre Annunziata, and Baia, as well as museums and private collections in the United States and Europe, the exhibition is organized in five sections:
Patrons at Home: Proprietors and other inhabitants of the maritime villas or the well-appointed houses of Pompeii and surrounding towns collected works of art that included marble or bronze portraits of members of the ruling families and individualized private portraits. They are installed here with interior furnishings from the residences, such as frescoes that depict seaside villas, marine delicacies from the Bay of Naples, and intimate genre scenes. Silver wine cups decorated with episodes from the Labors of Hercules, a mirror with a lively scene of cupids fishing, vessels of colorful glass or inlaid obsidian, and gold jewelry reflect the owners taste for luxury.
Courtyards and Gardens: Bronze statues and fountains, marble sculptures and reliefs, and frescoes decorated the colonnaded courtyards at the heart of Roman villas and houses. Much of the garden sculpture depicts wild animals and Dionysos, god of wine, theater, and nature, with his entourage of satyrs and maenads. Frescoes portray peacocks, swallows, magpies, and other birds as well as flowers and various flowering shrubs, including roses, laurel, and oleander. Evoking the setting of Platos Academy, which is portrayed in a mosaic in this section, gardens were also places for reflection and learning.
Moregine: A highlight of the exhibition is a dining room from the site of Moregine on the Sarno River south of Pompeii. Discovered in 1959 and further excavated in 19992001, the walls from its flooded dining rooms were removed in order to preserve their frescoes. The exhibition features three dining-room walls decorated with images of Apollo, god of the arts, with the muses, shown floating against a red background and framed by elegant architectural fantasies. Ancient Roman dining rooms were often located to offer diners a view of the garden, and a living garden in the exhibition echoes a nearby fresco from the House of the Golden Bracelet.
The Legacy of Greece: The Roman reverence for classical Greece and taste for antiquities characterized the art collections formed by wealthy Romans. Ciceros correspondence with his art dealer reveals a burgeoning market. Patrons commissioned works of art in the full range of Greek styles, including a marble statue of Artemis in an archaic style and a monumental sculpture of Aphrodite that echoes the classical style. A portrait of Homer, an equestrian statuette of Alexander the Great, and a relief depicting scenes from the Trojan War exemplify the Roman appreciation of works representing Greek subjects and themes.
Rediscovery and Reinvention: Eighteenth-century excavations and the rediscovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum had a major impact on the art and culture of the modern world. During the 1700s, the Bourbon excavations yielded vast numbers of antiquities, and a subsequent publication, the illustrated volumes of Delle antichità di Ercolano, refueled the rage for classical antiquities. Reproductions of the antiquities grew into a major industry. Pompeiana soon permeated travel writing and affected the art, interior design, and culture of Europe and finally North America. Great houses in Europe and eventually even rooms in the United States Capitol were decorated in the Pompeian style, characterized by paintings of architectural fantasies or maenads floating against brightly colored backgrounds.