Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples

October 19, 2008 – March 22, 2009

East Building, Mezzanine and Upper Level, Northeast, and Upper Level, North Bridge


Overview: 142 objects, including sculptures, frescoes, mosaics, decorative objects, paintings, and rare books associated with Roman-era villas of Pompeii and nearby areas were included in this exhibition, the first at the National Gallery of Art to focus on the art and architecture of ancient Rome. Objects on view included recently excavated works on view in the United States for the first time as well as earlier discoveries. The presentation was organized by theme: Patrons at Home, Courtyards and Gardens, Legacy of Greece, and Rediscovery and Reinvention, which focused on the rediscovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum and its impact on the modern world. A 14-foot high photomural of a painting of Mt. Vesuvius erupting could be seen from the East Building Atrium. 2 monumental watercolor reproductions depicting cross-sections of the House of the Centenary by Jules-Léon Chifflot were installed on facing walls at the exhibition entrance. Throughout the exhibition, visitors walked across digital reproductions of mosaics from ancient villas. Frescoes from three walls of the dining room at the site of Moregine were installed in a recreation of the room. A potted garden of plants of a kind typically found in villa gardens was installed adjacent to an ancient Pompeian fresco. A 3-minute video presenting digital recreations of 3 villas ran continuously in the exhibition.

An audio tour of the exhibition was available, narrated by National Gallery of Art director Earl A. Powell III with commentary by guest curator Carol Mattusch, George Mason University; Mary Beard, Newnham College, University of Cambridge; and Kenneth Lapatin, J. Paul Getty Museum. An opening day lecture was given by exhibition curator Carol Mattusch. In November, Paul Zanker, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa presented the Sydney J. Freedberg Lecture in Italian Art in association with the exhibition. A series of concerts of Italian music were presented in association with the exhibition and a public symposium, Roman Art and Culture on the Bay of Naples, was offered during its final weekend. Studio workshops for middle school and high school also were offered.

A documentary film narrated by Sir Derek Jacobi was produced by the National Gallery of Art in conjunction with the exhibition. A 10-minute version of the film was shown in the exhibition and the full 30-minute version was shown in the East Building auditoriums.

From October through March, Garden Café Italia offered a special menu of regional Neopolitan cuisine in honor of the exhibition.

Organization: The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with the cooperation of the Direzione Regionale per i Beni Culturali e Paesaggistici della Campania and the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei. Carol Mattusch, George Mason University, was curator.

Sponsor: Bank of America was the national sponsor. The exhibition in Washington was made possible by The Exhibition Circle of the National Gallery of Art. It was also made possible by Mr. and Mrs. Joe L. Allbritton. The exhibition in Washington was also supported by The Charles Engelhard Foundation and by Mary and Michael Jaharis with additional funding provided by John J. Medveckis and the Malcolm Hewitt Wiener Foundaion. The exhibition was supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Attendance: 351,987

Catalog: Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples by Carol Mattusch et al. Washington: National Gallery of Art and New York: Thames and Hudson, 2008.

Brochure: Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples by Susan Arensberg and Rebecca Molholt. Washington: National Gallery of Art, 2008.

Other Venues: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, October 19, 2008–October 4, 2009
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, February 24–May 18, 2008
February 24–May 18, 2008, November 8, 2008–January 25, 2009

Image: Installation view of Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Gallery Archives