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Excerpts from History: PompeiiMount Vesuvius, a volcano near the Bay of Naples in Italy, is hundreds of thousands of years old and has erupted more than 50 times. Its most famous eruption took place in the year 79 A.D., when the volcano buried the ancient Roman city of Pompeii under a thick carpet of volcanic ash.
(online April 2013)
Two thousand people died, and the city was abandoned for almost as many years. When a group of explorers rediscovered the site in 1748, they were surprised to find that--underneath a thick layer of dust and debris--Pompeii was mostly intact.
Ever since the ancient Greeks settled in the area in the 8th century B.C., the region around Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples attracted wealthy vacationers who wanted to soak up the sun and the scenery. By the turn of the first century A.D., the town of Pompeii, located about five miles from the mountain, was a flourishing resort for Rome’s most distinguished citizens. Elegant houses and elaborate villas lined the paved streets.
On the eve of that fateful eruption in 79 A.D., scholars estimate that there were about 20,000 people living in Pompeii and the surrounding region.
By the time the Vesuvius eruption sputtered to an end the next day, Pompeii was buried under millions of tons of volcanic ash. About 2,000 people were dead.
Pompeii remained mostly untouched until 1748, when a group of explorers looking for ancient artifacts arrived in Campania and began to dig. They found that the ashes had acted as a marvelous preservative: Underneath all that dust, Pompeii was almost exactly as it had been 2,000 years before. Its buildings were intact. Skeletons were frozen right where they’d fallen. Everyday objects and household goods littered the streets. Later archaeologists even uncovered jars of preserved fruit and loaves of bread!
Many scholars say that the excavation of Pompeii played a major role in the neo-Classical revival of the 18th century. Europe’s wealthiest and most fashionable families displayed art and reproductions of objects from the ruins, and drawings of Pompeii’s buildings helped shape the architectural trends of the era. For example, wealthy British families often built “Etruscan rooms” that mimicked those in Pompeiian villas.
Excerpts from The Neoclassicising of PompeiiThe discoveries made at Pompeii and Herculaneum, in addition to having a major influence on painting also played a major role in shaping Neoclassical design. In many ways this had an even more pervasive effect upon contemporary attitudes to ancient Roman wall-painting. Virtually every designed object from a palatial house to a mass-produced teaspoon was created in the Neoclassical style.
(online Jan. 2018)
Even new technological inventions such as the typewriter were given neoclassical attributes. Europe’s colonies also imported and made Neoclassical style objects. Virtually every government edifice from totalitarian to democratic and republican to monarchist, came to adopt the Neoclassical style, resulting in cities as far apart as Philadelphia and Sydney, St Petersburg and Shanghai all sharing a common visual language. The extent to which Pompeii and Herculaneum fed this new cultural phenomenon cannot be overstated.
In late eighteenth-century England manufactures such as Wedgwood were quick to satisfy the growing taste for all things Neoclassical by mass-producing artefacts based upon wall-paintings and stucco relief work from Pompeii, Herculaneum and Rome. Chippendale lead the way in furniture and the mass-produced furniture market soon followed. Most of the early Neoclassical designs were an indiscriminate mixture of Etruscan, Roman, Pompeian and Greek motifs and the names given to these styles were also highly misleading, with Pompeian motifs being referred to as Etruscan and vice versa.
As increasing numbers of Pompeian wall-paintings influenced the emerging Neoclassical style, Pompeii became exclusively associated with Neoclassical interiors. At the same time British architects such as Robert Adam (1728-1792) followed by Sir John Soane (1753-1837) used motifs from the newly excavated Campanian sites to soften the ‘classical’ austerity associated with Palladianism, the then dominant architectural style. In so doing they also unwittingly accelerated the process by which Pompeian domestically located wall-painting became depaganised and turned into a decorative interior design style.