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. For example, Stabiae, a city located not far from Pompeii (discovered by archeologists in the 17th century, almost simultaneously to the discoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum), was a famous resort where the Roman elite constructed buildings of unusual magnificence and taste. For more than 100 years, in the period of the late republic and early empire this was essentially the summer residence for the Roman government until in 79 A.D. Stabiae was buried beneath Vesuvius' lava.
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.
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.
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, Courtyards and Gardens, Moregine, The Legacy of Greece, Rediscovery and Reinvention (Eighteenth-century excavations and the rediscovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum).
Carol Mattusch, Mathy Professor of Art History at George Mason University, is the guest curator of the exhibition and the fully illustrated catalogue for Pompeii and the Roman Villa is written by Mattusch with contributions by other specialists.
After Washington, DC, the show travels to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, May 3 through October 4, 2009.
National Gallery of Art Web Site