Monday, November 10, 2008

Pompeii Comes to Washington

Last Friday, someone I know and yours truly took in the National Gallery of Art's Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture Around the Bay of Naples. It's a nice show. Not the bordello paintings and priapic satyrs one associates with the ruined resort. Rather highbrow, dealing with Pompeii past, present, and perhaps future...

Not just Las Vegas, Pompeii had been a Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket of ancient Rome. Writers, orators, actors, even philosophers were respected--on display is a mosaic featuring Plato with students beneath a tree. Thoughts of 9/11 came to mind while looking at 19th-century paintings of the disaster by the likes of Joseph Wright of Derby. Photos of the ash-covered bodies re-created in Plaster of Paris likewise evoked the collapse of the World Trade Center. Some of the statues looked surprisingly contemporary--like art deco sculptures by Paul Manship. Painted walls for a dining room turned out to have descendants on display in hearing rooms of the US Capitol. And Sir Derek Jacobi's Masterpiece Theatre-like video orientation brought back the glory days of I, Claudius.

Highly recommended.