The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 destroyed, yet paradoxically preserved the ancient city of Pompeii, providing a vivid glimpse into the daily lives of ancient Romans. Since the rediscovery of the site in the 1700s, centuries of leading artists—from Piranesi, Ingres and Alma-Tadema to Duchamp, Rothko, Warhol and Gormley — have been inspired to re-imagine it in paintings, sculpture, photographs, performance and film. While exhibitions dedicated to the archaeology of Pompeii have been numerous, this is the first time this ancient city and cataclysmic event is explored through the lens of modern creators and thinkers.
Organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum, the title of the exhibition, The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection, is inspired by Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Last Days of Pompeii, an incredibly popular 1834 novel that combined a Victorian love story with sensational subplots of pagan decadence, Christianity and volcanic eruption. The book was presented as archaeologically accurate and helped transform Pompeii into a place to stage fiction.
Mixing chronology and media, the exhibition featuring nearly 100 works breaks down according to three broad themes. Decadence looks at why we consider Pompeii as a place of luxury, sex, violence and excess. Apocalypse explores Pompeii as the archetype of disaster—the cataclysm to which all others are compared—from the American Civil War and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to 9/11. And Resurrection considers how Pompeii has become a place to re-create and recast the ancient past.
Cleveland Museum of Art Website