Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pompeii Frescoes at Naples National Archaeological Museum

(ANSA) Naples, April 30 - A collection of frescoes that once adorned the walls of Ancient Roman buildings in Pompeii are set to go on show in Naples.

The National Archaeological Museum is to open its completely revamped fresco section, which hosts 400 works of art, following a ten-year renovation project. Preserved by a hail of lava and ash from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79, the precious artwork lay untouched for centuries until excavations started in the 1700s. Over the next 150 years, hundreds of frescoes were removed from their original location and carried away, sometimes for profit, sometimes in a bid to protect the art.

In nearly all cases, removing the artwork damaged the walls of the ancient buildings. Today, the collection housed in the Naples museum is the largest in the world, and is ready to go on show again. The principal change is an entirely new layout, which seeks to place the works in their historical context. The new layout offers visitors a chronological route through the works, charting developments in Pompeian art, as well as a thematic route, which groups together items removed from the same building wherever possible. The developments in art are mapped out through the four so-called ''styles'' of Pompeian wall-painting. The collection contains no examples of the first style, dominant from the 2nd century BC until around 80 BC, as this mainly simulated marble and other materials, and so was of little interest to early archaeologists and was rarely removed. However, there is an extensive selection of art from the second style, which was popular throughout the first century BC. This period saw a focus on architectural features and trompe l'oeil compositions, such as a renowned painting of Macedonian princes and philosophers.

The third style, which peaked in around 10 BC but still appeared in Pompeian art 70 years later, favored ornate and colorful decoration. Well-known examples from this era include a series of beautifully intricate paintings from the Boscotrecase villa, and bedroom decorations from the House of Fatal Love. The fourth style saw a resurgence in architectural scenes, although without the illusionary depth that characterized the second style.

However, a number of categories were eternally popular subjects for wall-painting. Religious and mythological subjects were long-running favorites, such as the feats of Hercules, Dido's abandonment by Aeneas, Perseus rescuing Andromeda or the love of Mars and Venus, which appears in 30 paintings. Landscape paintings also appear throughout the ages, ranging from idyllic mythological scenes to elaborate gardens to exotic locations such as Egypt, complete with Nile and crocodiles. Paintings from taverns and shops provide another recurrent category.

Generally hurried works with little preparation, these served the sole purpose of attracting attention. However, they are today of particular interest to archaeologists as they depict rare scenes from everyday life, such as tradesmen, market people, laborers and tavern scenes.

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