Pompeii: A touching agony – FINISHED!!!

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Reviewed on 10/31/2011 | No Reviews

Some 2,000 years separate us from the Roman civilization, but when visiting this stunning exhibition at Musée Maillol, in Paris, you realize that the ordinary people of Pompeii had a way of life pretty close to ours: an underfloor heating system, an appliance that heats or cools drinks, a bathtub with warm water, the Romans had it all.

Highlight the plight of the Unesco site

“Pompeii – A way of life” is the title of this exhibition showing more than 200 artifacts loaned to the French museum to highlight the plight of the Unesco heritage site. You probably remember: last year, a major building in Pompeii collapsed after heavy rain, and the site is so desperate for funds, that Unesco may remove its world heritage status.

Last week, at the end of October, a Roman wall had collapsed, prompting accusations that Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi had failed to keep his promises to protect the ancient site (he’s not good at keeping promises anyway these days, so it might very well be true). Seeing the Paris exhibition, you only hope that the money needed to save these extraordinary vestiges of the past will be found.

Put yourself in the shoes of a visitor

The idea of this exhibition is quite simple, but very tempting: in a joint Franco-Italian effort, the makers of the show tried to recreate the experience of a visit to a wealthy home in Pompeii on an ordinary day by some stranger passing by. So, let’s play the game, let’s put ourselves in the shoes, or sandals, of an ancient visitor.

The first thing you might notice: the wealth and aesthetic sense of ordinary Pompeii people. The houses were stuffed with precious things and inventions you wouldn’t expect. But that’s not all. The longest painted frieze ever found was in a very bare home. In Paris it’s not the whole work on display, just part of it, showing a small boat on the Nile, in which every detail celebrates life. It’s proof that in Pompeii the taste for a pleasant life and for fine detail was not just the preserve of the very rich.

The violence of the destruction

The artifacts don’t all come from the same house, of course, but from several. Some were found in the 18th century, others only recently. But all these statues, art works, pieces of jewellery or simple objects of daily life, show us a civilization that, in its pursuit of happiness, was not very far from ours. And all of a sudden, we understand the violence of the destruction, when, in 79 AD, mount Vesuvius buried the coastal town of Pompeii under its ashes, in a few short hours. It must have felt, back then, like the tsunamis of our days.

That’s why the most touching objects are the plaster casts of the remains of two young girls and a dog found at Casa del Criptoportico: they are frozen, 2,000 years ago, at the moment of their death. And after all this time, their humanity, their agony touches more than all the sophisticated inventions made by their fathers.

Pompeii – Un art de vivre  - A way of life – UNTIL 12 February 2012

Musée Maillol
61, rue de Grenelle
75007 PARIS
Métro: Rue du Bac  

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