My fascination with ancient Rome probably is in-built in my very Roman name, but it started in earnest when I read, as a child, “Quo Vadis” by Nobel Laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz. The adventures of Licia, the covert Christian in love with a pagan Roman, her runs in the catacombs and the, more or less, true to life descriptions of ancient Rome, resonated with me and captivated my imagination.
My first trip to Pompeii was also as a child and walking along the cobblestones where I imagined carriages driving by, real bread being made in the ovens and real people sleeping in frescoed bedrooms are all vignettes that stayed with me. I fell in love with the famous Pompeii dog and children and never mind that no dog or bodies were inside the casts that were made mostly in the 19th century, by filling the vacuums the ashes had created.
The myth of Pompeii endures because it’s impossible not to be moved by a site where the past comes alive so tangibly – yet, what we see today was heavily bombed during WWII and quite a bit of restoration took place. Pompeii has come to represent all those natural (or man-made) calamities that have haunted mankind through the centuries.
It’s the myths of Pompeii and the art that this ancient site inspired, from Victorian paintings to Robert Rauschenberg that are being explored in a new exhibition at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades. There are very few artifacts from the archaeological site but, rather, a plethora of art pieces and artifacts that take the viewer through depictions of Pompeii through the centuries, all the way to Hollywood, interactive visual and audio material and, all in all, a very different and unexplored take on a very dead city.
The exhibition “The Last Days of Pompeii” – Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection opens on Wed Sep 12 and runs until January 7, 2013.