Ancient World, Art, Exhibitions and Installations, Getty Research Institute, Photographs, Film, and Video

New Exhibition Offers Look Inside Pompeii’s Interiors

Detail of a transverse section of the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii  / Jules Frederic Bouchet and Raoul Rochette

Inside the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii in the early 19th century. Detail from a hand-colored engraving by Jules Frédéric Bouchet (draftsman) and Raoul Rochette in Maison du poete tragique a Pompei, publiee, avec ses peintures et ses mosaiques, fidelement reproduites et avec un texte explicatif (Paris, 1828). The Getty Research Institute, 2643-730

The exhibition Inside Out: Pompeian Interiors Exposed, recently opened at the Italian Cultural Institute in Westwood, provides a historic glimpse inside the houses and villas of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Drawing mainly from the photo archive of the Getty Research Institute, which counts over two million photographs of art historical contents, the exhibition focuses on visual documentation of the archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum from the time of their rediscovery in the mid-18th century through our time in the early 21st. Early prints and photographs of the sites offer a vivid contrast to contemporary images, which show the passage of time and the recent interventions undertaken to preserve this delicate ancient environment—which, after being buried for eighteen centuries, is now exposed to fluctuating environmental conditions in the open air.

When they were buried by ash and rock from the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79, Pompeii and Herculaneum were busy commercial centers serving the imperial capital of Rome, 150 miles to the north, as well as lavish countryside villas that were home to people connected to the Roman emperor by family, political, or business ties. Some of these houses and villas were beautifully decorated with wall paintings and mosaics, and the exhibition features photos and prints of some of the most renowned of these interiors, such as the House of the Tragic Poet, the House of the Faun, and the House of the Vettii in Pompeii, and the House of the Bicentenary and the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum. The images in the exhibition highlight the art that enlivened their walls and floors with mythical stories, landscape views, or elaborate decorative elements.

Named after its mosaic depicting the rehearsal of a satyr play, the House of the Tragic Poet was decorated throughout with scenes from the epic poems of the Iliad and the Odyssey. French archaeologist Raoul Rochette (1789–1854) was among the first to study and document this house, and he created detailed watercolors that reveal its interiors and wall decorations. Among these early prints, one shows a roofless space with Vesuvius in the background, yet with the original colorful frescoes still adorning the walls of what used to be the main courtyard and reception hall.

View through the atrium and tablinum of the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii / Jules Frederic Bouchet and Raoul Rochette

View through the atrium and tablinum of the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii. Hand-colored engraving by Jules Frederic Bouchet (draftsman) and Raoul Rochette in Maison du poete tragique a Pompei, publiee, avec ses peintures et ses mosaiques, fidelement reproduites et avec un texte explicatif (Paris, 1828). The Getty Research Institute, 2643-730

The photograph below, by contrast, shows the same interior space photographed toward the end of the 19thcentury.

Late-19th-century photograph of the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii

Late-19th-century photograph of the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii, showing the impluvium with its floor mosaic. Unknown photographer. Study photographs of ancient architecture. The Getty Research Institute, 76.P.6

Another plate in Rochette’s publication shows the whole northern wall of the house, featuring on the center the small lararium, or family shrine, placed in the garden area.

Transverse section of the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii / Jules Frédéric Bouchet and Raoul Rochette

Transverse section of the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii. Detail from a hand-colored engraving by Jules Frédéric Bouchet (draftsman) and Raoul Rochette in Maison du poete tragique a Pompei, publiee, avec ses peintures et ses mosaiques, fidelement reproduites et avec un texte explicatif (Paris, 1828). The Getty Research Institute, 2643-730

A recent photo of the same wall shows a dramatic transformation over the past 150 years. The light blue in the center of the wall has lost its tone and part of the stucco is gone, and a corrugated roof and structural mesh have been added to preserve what’s left of the interior spaces.

Recent photograph of the interior of the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii, showing loss of frescoes and stucco

Recent photograph of the interior of the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii, showing protective roofing and netting in place to slow further deterioration. Photo courtesy en nico

Another section of the exhibition presents the work carried out by the Getty Conservation Institute in Herculaneum at the House of the Bicentenary in collaboration with the Herculaneum Conservation Project (HCP) and the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei.

The exhibition—which offers an interesting complement to the Getty Villa show The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection—is on view at the Italian Cultural Institute in Westwood through November 2, daily except Sunday. Admission is free.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted October 11, 2012 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    hi
    is there a catalogue for this exhibition?
    thanks
    jim bachor

  2. Isotta Poggi
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Dear Jim Bachor,
    unfortunately there is no catalog for this exhibition. Thank you for your interest in this show. – Isotta Poggi

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