Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pompeii at risk again

While Mt. Vesuvius is still, buildings are collapsing in Pompeii.  Just yesterday the House of the Gladiator collapsed and while reports suggest some frescoes are salvageable, the house is in ruins.  The culprit today is not Mt. Vesuvius but the mis-management of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Calls are being made for Pompeii management to be turned over to a private corporation instead of the always adventurous, volcanic and often incompetent Italian Government.

A crisis in Pompeii is an opportunity to revisit a book in my library worthy or being in every library with an interest in Pompeii, public, private, university, or specialist.  Books about Pompeii are popular for a range of book collectors and it is safe to say that a library without a book about Pompeii is a library in need of a book about Pompeii.  If you are interested in Pompeii, there is no better place to start a book collection than with Houses and Monuments of Pompeii:  The Works of Fausto and Felice Niccolini, edited by Roberto Cassanelli, Pier Luigi Ciepparelli, Enrico Colle, and Massimiliano David, with an Introduction by Stefano de Caro and translated from the Italian by Thomas M. Hartmann, The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002.  I examined the Italian Edition during a visit to the Museum shop at Herculaneum in 2002 and was thrilled to see the Getty translation would soon be available.

This large format publication offers a scholarly yet gentle introduction to the history of Pompeii with an emphasis on the publications, artists and archeologists who created the early visual records of the ruins and established a scientifically motivated approach to studying, mapping and chronicling the ruins and on the impact those attempts had on the study of ancient Roman culture, on the evolving pursuit of archeology as a science and on interior design and modern culture generally.  The illustrations are simply fabulous and it is a fascinating "fun-fact" that the original work of the Niccolini's was the first publication in Italy that used the chromolithograph method, fairly new at the time, and represented the state of the art in color printing.  What I truly love about this book is that the illustrations suggest not only the grandeur of the ruins as we see them now, but the rich colors that once decorated the exteriors and interiors.  While contemporary neo-classical architecture relies on white marble exteriors, the ancients used color to decorate building exteriors, and with this book, you will experience Pompeii as it looked before the eruption.  I remain amazed every time I browse through and study the illustrations.

Today I am saddened to think that the "Fresco Portraying the Famous Brawl Between the Pompeians and the Nucerians in the Amphitheater Discovered in the House of the Gladiator Actius Anicetus"  may well be destroyed forever.  I can't reproduce the image from the book here, but do get a copy and turn to page 101!

1 comment:

  1. There is a rich publishing tradition associated with the re-discovery and archeology of Pompeii and Herculaneum. These sites became tourist attractions almost immediately and guide books and surveys of the recovered antiquities became quite popular.

    Two of my favorite books in my library are Bellicard, "Observations upon the Antiquities of Herculaneum", 1753, London, and Dyer, "Pompeii: A guide to its History, Buildings, and Antiquities", London, 1875.

    Not only do these books document these sites at very different eras, but they give great insight to what was important to the intended reader at the time they were written. Needless to say the expectations of the dilettante and the Victorian tourist were distinct.

    I recommend Pompeii and Herculaneum guidebooks as a fascinating niche for any collector interested in antiquity and the evolution of taste.

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