Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Naples Museum Overhauls Roman Fresco Exhibit

When Pompeii and the other Roman sites on the Gulf of Naples were destroyed in 79 CE, posterity was given a unique gift. No were else was Roman civilization sealed in a "time capsule" to the extent that Pompeii was. Being sealed for over 1500 years, Pompeii and its related sites preserved much that was lost elsewhere in the Roman world. The most famous artifacts from the area are the hundreds of walls paintings found in situ. The importance of other artifacts can not be ignored and contribute immense knowledge to our understanding of Roman society, but the frescos are by far the most well know to the general public. Random (and limited) examples of wall painting have been found throughout the Roman Empire, but those few pieces pale in comparison to the shear magnitude of paintings found in Pompeii. The study and appreciation of those paintings has been going on since the 18th century and still today those paintings offer us a rare glimpse into the colorful world that was ancient Rome.

The Naples National Archaeological Museum (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli) houses a great quantity of frescos removed from Pompeii and the Gulf of Naples area. Many of these paintings were removed to protect them, but many were also removed long ago for the sake of profit. Today, many of the paintings left in situ at Pompeii are badly deteriorating, so it is my opinion that the removal, though damaging the walls that once held them, was an appropriate thing to do (this is a complicated issue which I will discuss in a future post). After a 10 year renovation, the Naples National Archaeological Museum has completely revamped it's Roman frescos section. The new exhibition of frescos apparently seeks to place the paintings in their historical context, which I think is great. The paintings will also be organized by their "style," based on Mau's four style categorization. I get excited any time Roman art is shown to the public, but especially when it is done in a way that emphasizes the importance of art in the framework of culture and history.