Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Five Stars in Pompeii and Herculaneum

Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum
28th March - 29th September
British Museum, London

I am excited about this, I have to say. The exhibition opens on Thursday and I can't wait for the excuse to go and see it next time I'm in London.

Vanessa Baldwin, who was on my undergraduate course at university, is actually co-curating the exhibition (I'm only a little bit jealous), and has even co-written the guide book to go with it! Knowing her, I'm convinced it's going to be good.

The whole point is that this exhibition is about daily life, rather than public spectacles, theatres or famous statues. We can expect commonplace items, such as tables, which have been remarkably preserved in the ash of Vesuvius in the eruption of AD 59.

I've had a look at some of the objects that are being featured:

Terentius Neo and his wife
Terentius Neo, baker, and his wife. AD 50-79.
Not only is this a lovely portrait of a man and his wife, it is also exceptional for being a portrait. This represents the people who actually lived in this house, the man staring straight out at the viewer, his wife's eyes slightly averted. She also has a stylus pressed to her lip in a contemplative gesture, whilst he rests his chin on a scroll. This shows how they are not only thinking, but they are also able to think, to read and to work, which was also a sign of just how successful a baker he was. She also holds a wax tablet, which shows that she was involved in the business side of the bakery. It shows how educated this pair were, (or how educated they wanted the viewer to think they were) and it is both delightful and unusual to find such a portrait preserved in a Roman house.

House of the Golden Bracelet fresco:
House of the Golden Bracelet, Garden fresco.
This lovely fresco was found along the wall of the triclinium (dining room) of a large town-house. This particular scene shows an open and fantastical garden, populated by all kinds of species of birds, so to seem as though the dining room itself was open to a garden. The 'heads' hanging from the sky are in fact theatre masks, which reflect a flimsy theatre-like structure painted above this open scene. Painted women recline in the rectangular pictures, supported by the heads of herms, making this garden something of a picture gallery - a pinakothekai - in this fantasy garden.

Pan and goat:
Pan and goat. (see Telegraph article)
Don't be prudish, this is sex and sex is amusing and fun. Notice how Pan even seems to be leaning tenderly over the goat, as if reassuring her that everything will be ok? This piece is bound to get a few giggles in the exhibition. It completely throws us as we have no idea whether to take it seriously or as a joke. Normally is it confined to the 'Secret Cabinet' room of the Naples Museum. I can't wait to see how they explain this piece. The phallus was seen as a lucky object, and fauns were naughty, cheeky and sexually depraved. They were also part-goat. So really, I see this as an amusing talking point in a Roman garden, not meant to shock, but just, titillate.

In any case, I'm excited for the new exhibition and can't wait to see what objects have made it out of Italy to amuse and interest us in the UK.

Reviews of the exhibition can be found here:

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