Before Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, Pompeii was a thriving commercial town, one of several around the Bay of Naples that prospered from trade in wine, olive oil, seafood, and the abundant fruits and vegetables that grew in the region's rich volcanic soil. The temperate climate so favorable to agriculture also attracted vacationing Romans who enjoyed the bay's natural beauty and hot springs as well as the lingering Greek culture around Naples, a former Greek colony. In the first century BC and the first century AD, when the works of art in this exhibition were created, the Bay of Naples was Rome's most fashionable resort. Julius Caesar, emperors, senators, and other prominent Romans all owned sumptuous villas built along its shores. High season was in the spring when the Senate was in recess.
The demand for paintings, sculpture, and luxurious decorative arts to adorn the vast seaside villas lured artists and artisans from far and wide. Those engaged by villa owners could easily find additional clients among the well-to-do residents of Pompeii, where houses were decorated in a fashion similar to that of the villas, although on a smaller scale. The works of art acquired by both villa owners and townspeople reflect their shared artistic tastes and cultural ideals, particularly a reverence for ancient Greece, which was seen as a golden age.