Thursday, September 06, 2012

Getty to feature modern depictions of Pompeii catastrophe

Unlike many other exhibitions of archaeological material from Pompeii, The Getty Villa's new presentation,  The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrectionscheduled to open September 12, 2012 and running until January 7, 2013, begins with modern representations of perceived Pompeian decadence.  
The prevailing idea that the cataclysmic eruption that destroyed the Vesuvian cities in A.D. 79 was a justly deserved punishment for sins has pervaded popular consciousness through art and literature up to the present day. This notion has inspired artists and provided a vehicle to present sensual scenes or subversive themes in an acceptable setting.  A highlight of this section is Francesco Netti's most famous work,Gladiator Fight during a Meal at Pompeii (1880, Naples, Museo di Capodimonte), which depicts the aftermath of a mortal combat held at a Pompeian banquet for the entertainment of dissolute, drunken Romans, while ladies swoon after the victor.
But despite its seeming accuracy, achieved through the precise depiction of archaeological artifacts, this scene has little basis in ancient practice. Roman gladiators generally performed in public arenas and rarely fought to the death.  The painting, rather, can be viewed as a contemporary critique of mid-nineteenth-century Italian aristocrats. 
Also on display are photographs by Wilhelm von Gloeden and Gugliemo Plüschow, some from Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's personal archive, which record some of the best-known monuments at Pompeii populated by local youths staged in various states of undress. These photographs perpetuate a long-standing notion that Pompeii was a place of desire and erotic indulgence.