The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) is bringing Pompeii back to life, from February 6 to September 5, 2016, in the largest exhibition ever to be presented in Quebec on this iconic Roman city at the time Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.
The exhibition has been organized by the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the MMFA, in collaboration with the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli and the Soprintendenza Pompei.
A selection of more than 220 of the best preserved works from the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, the largest repository of archeological objects, and from the site of Pompeii itself, which is managed by the Soprintendenza Pompei. Some of the works come from the neighbouring city of Herculanum.
The MMFA is officially opening the exhibition in the presence of Professor Stefano Vanacore, director of the restoration laboratory in Pompeii (Soprintendenza Pompei), His Excellency Gian Lorenzo Cornado, Ambassador of Italy, and Enrico Padula, Consul General of Italy in Montreal, and Filippo Lonardo, Vice-Consul of Italy in Montreal.
“Anyone who has visited the Pompeii and Herculanum has had the strange and unforgettable feeling of familiarity with their inhabitants, their monuments and their everyday objects. Equally unforgettable are the emotions sparked by the body casts,” said Nathalie Bondil, the Museum’s Director and Chief Curator. “This is why I wanted to create an evocative experience in Montreal, with a unique immersive exhibition that goes beyond the rare artefacts, the precious objects and the many generously loaned items.”
With thematic sections and an immersive installation designed for the MMFA, the exhibition will take visitors on a journey through time and space, where past and present interact. They will have an opportunity to imagine what daily life in Pompeii was like when the volcano erupted in
"This exhibition on Pompeii offers us an unparalleled view into the public, private and intimate realms of Romans who lived two thousand years ago," explained Paul Denis, principal curator of the exhibition and assistant curator at the ROM.
“When I was eight years old, I too was transfixed by Pompeii,” added Laura Vigo, the MMFA’s Italian archeologist and the exhibition’s co-curator. “I remember, as it was yesterday, walking through those ancient streets, peering through the crumbling walls of once-majestic residences, glancing at frescoes or even at the plaster casts of the victims caught exhaling their last breath under the wrath of Vesuvius. As a child, and even today as an adult, I felt as if I could grasp the transient shadows of ancient life as it once was, two thousand years before me. This is the immense charm of Pompeii.”
The exhibition presents the citizens of Pompeii, their history, their appetite for life and their delight in the sensual, as seen in the 220 work on display. It includes frescos, mosaics and statues in various materials (bronze, terra cotta and marble), luxurious accessories, silverware, everyday utensils, religious paraphernalia and an exquisite selection of erotica from the Secret Cabinet of the National Archeological Museum in Naples.
The MMFA has added three pieces to the Montreal leg of the exhibition from the National Museum of Archeology in Naples that show the importance of physical activity and fitness for Pompeiians: fragments of a fresco depicting wrestlers, a strigil (a scraper for cleansing the skin) and an aryballos (a flask for massage oil). The exhibition also includes some works from the MMFA: the very fine Harry A. Norton collection of Roman glass from the first century and some coins recently acquired from Dr. Demers.
THE EXHIBITION ITINERARY: A CITY FROZEN IN TIME
In 88 A.D., just a few years after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the poet Statius pondered the future of Pompeii. While he sincerely doubted whether future generations would remember the catastrophe, he did not question the power of life, in all its forms. For over sixteen centuries, the Roman town of Pompeii lay buried under metres of hardened ashes, its name swept away by the passing of time and by more than two hundred lava outpours. Although Vesuvius remained active (it last erupted in 1944), Pompeii rose from the ashes and became one of the most fascinating archeological discoveries of all time.
With the visuals and sound effects created for the Montreal presentation, the exhibition offers visitors a multisensory, immersive experience so they can imagine daily life in this town up until its final hours.
Visitors travel back in time: strolling along the bustling streets of this once thriving Roman town, they can visit its markets, shops and temples and rub shoulders with its inhabitants, sculpted in marble for posterity.
The exhibition reveals the Pompeians’ appreciation for music, theatre, gaming, sports and ultimately, love. Their desire to fully embrace life is reflected in this line from the poet Horace, in about 22 B.C.: “Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero” [Seize the day, for no one know what the future will bring].
Life-sized statues of actors, musical instruments, gladiatorial paraphernalia, statues of athletes, as well as erotic art, including the famous fresco of a satyr and a maenad, provide a glimpse of the Pompeian art of living.
The intimate setting of the the home—from the atrium (entrance) to the cubiculum (bed chamber) and the triclinium (dining hall)—sheds light on women’s lives, their role in society, their fashions and their aspirations to luxury, with perfume and jewellery.
In the banquet hall elegantly decorated with mosaics, lamps and furniture, “you’ll be charmed by the freshness of these two-thousand-year-old pieces and the bright sounds of musical instruments from the Roman era,” said François Filiatrault, ancient music consultant for the MMFA.
Visitors then enter the garden, an example of the symbiosis between pictorial illusion and natural reality, between art and nature. At the entrance, a splendid and enigmatic bronze sculpture—one of five dancers found in the celebrated Villa dei Papiri (Villa of the Papyri) in Herculanum in the eighteenth century. This dancer (peplophoros), captured in the act of fastening – or unfastening? – her tunic (peplos), stares at viewers with her ivory eyes in sharp contrast to her darkened bronze complexion.
A multimedia experience immerses viewers in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD in a contemporary interpretation created the Montreal firm Graphics eMotion, depicting the various phases in the natural disaster that for nineteen hours unleashed its wrath on Pompeii. Visitors will be able to follow the eruption, from the first tremors to the pyroclastic surge that forever sealed the fate of its 1,500 inhabitants. A famous mosaic of a guard dog and the cast of a dog’s body imprisoned in its chains evoke the tragedy.
Pompeii was reborn from the ashes of this human tragedy, and a dozen casts are displayed in contrast to a recent work by contemporary French videographer Laurent Grasso: Soleil noir, a short film made in 2014 using drone footage of the ruins of Pompeii.
The site was rediscovered in the eighteenth century, with Giuseppe Fiorelli, director of excavations, playing a key role in developing the casting technique that brought Pompeii back to life in the late nineteenth century.
Rounding out the exhibition are documentaries and reconstructions:
- Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius! Castle Films, March 1944, 9 min 27 s. Periscope Film LLC
- A Day in Pompeii, 2009, 8 min 39 s.© 2010 Zero One Animation and Melbourne Museum
- 79 A.D. Pompeii: A Virtual Tour with Reconstructions of Herculaneum, 2014, 20 min 30 s.
CURATORS AND EXHIBITION DESIGN
The exhibition’s curator is Laura Vigo, archeologist and curator at the MMFA, under the direction of Paul Denis, principal curator and assistant curator at the Royal Ontario Museum, in collaboration with Kate Cooper, assistant curator and university researcher specializing in classical archeology at the ROM.
To create the complex layout exclusive to the Montreal presentation, designed with Nathalie Bondil and Laura Vigo, Sandra Gagné, Head of Exhibitions Production at the MMFA, worked with a number of firms, artists and designers:
- In Situ architectural workshop designed the exhibition layout;
- Graphics eMotion created a moving experience: starry sky, rain in the impluvium,
projections of a play of shadows and sound effects in a garden, an immersive volcanic
- The banquet hall, brought to life with a soundtrack created on the basis of papyrus scrolls
found in the Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus, dating from the second and third centuries.
The excerpts selected by François Filiatrault, ancient music consultant, are performed by
the Ensemble De Organographia (Pandourion Records);
- Lighting by designer Lysanne Pépin hangs above the triclinium in the banquet hall;
- Soleil noir, a film by Laurent Grasso (16 mm, made in 2014 for the exhibition Soleil double)
features drone footage of the deserted lanes of Pompeii and the eerie lunar landscapes on the summit of Stromboli, a still-active volcano in Italy’s Aeolian Islands.
CARPE DIEM FAMILY AREA AND CHILDREN’S AUDIOGUIDE
For the first time, the MMFA is adding a family area at the exit of the exhibition, to meet the growing needs of family visitors. This fun, multipurpose area will offer a wide range of activities, including an art workshop, reading nook, demonstrations and films.
There is also an audioguide for families, with ten stories inspired by key objects in the exhibition. This is a unique opportunity for parents and children to enjoy a quality experience that complements their exhibition visit.
For Pompeii, the MMFA is again offering visitors a handy mobile site. With this feature, they can read the wall panels and commentary on the works in the galleries using their smartphone or tablet. Available in English and French, the texts were written by exhibition’s curator, Laura Vigo. MMFAPOMPEI.com
Bourgie Hall is presenting five Neapolitan-inspired concerts in connection with Pompeii:
- Naples: the Sensual City with Les Boréades
- Neopolitan Opera Arias with works by Leo, Porpora, A. Scarlatti and Vinci
- Le Strade del Cuore, with celebrated Italian tenor Marco Beasley, who will take the
audience on a journey to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the roads of Vesuvius
- Pulcinella, with the ensemble Fuoco E Cenere, a hilarious mix of Pergolesi’s delightful
music and the art of buratinaio
- Acclaimed Italian harpsichordist Fabio Bonizzoni will present a recital of works by
This project was made possible with the generous support of RBC, the exhibition’s presenter, in collaboration with Metro and Moira and Alfredo Romano. The MMFA acknowledges the vital support of the Museum Volunteers’ Association, Air Canada, Bell, Ciot, Tourisme Montréal, Zonin, Il gruppo dell’arte – Judith Bérard and Jean Rizzuto, La Presse and The Gazette.
The Museum thanks the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec and the Canada Council for the Arts for their invaluable support. The exhibition also received support from Heritage Canada via its Canada Travelling Exhibitions Indemnification Program. The Museum’s international exhibitions programme receives financial support from the Exhibition Fund of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Foundation and the Paul G. Desmarais Fund.
The Museum also thanks its Volunteer Guides for their unwavering support, as well as its members and the many people, companies and foundations that support it, including the Fondation de la Chenelière, headed by Michel de la Chenelière, and the Arte Musica Foundation chaired by Pierre Bourgie, for their generosity.
We thank all those whose cooperation, encouragement and contributions made this exhibition possible.