Several weeks ago, the Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend and I went to see Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The experience of the exhibit reminded me of a house tour, since the art and culture on display came from villas, country homes of the rich and powerful. In some cases, the interior or exterior of the villa was itself transported or recreated as part of the display.
The first exhibit room was filled with busts and other carvings of Rome's ruling family, starting with Julius Caesar and continuing down through the Julio-Claudian dynastic line. I found it remarkable how easily identifiable the faces were from movies and television shows set in the ancient era. How else could the faces of these Roman royals appear so familiar?
Certainly it was my memories of I, Claudius that made a relief portrait of Tiberius and Livia together appear chilling. Then there was Nero, looking like an overfed, spoiled man-child, just as I imagined him to be. A sculptor had made Caligula's cruelty evident in a strange, downward quirk of the emperor's mouth.
In the next room, we were greeted by a beautiful statue of Aphrodite/Venus, shown here. The Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend and I naturally gravitated toward a large statue of Artemis, around whom other pairs of women museum-goers had gathered.
While the scale of the marble statues was impressive, I was dazzled by the many small bronze statues on display. I was unaware that such delicate bronzes were being created then. I also learned that the earliest examples of decorative glassware date from this period; several pieces were included in the exhibit.
Some objects on display were unusual but apparently typical. There were a number of bronze standing lamps in the shape of a standing human slave bearing a handheld lamp. Novelties, I suppose. Lava Lamps for the wealthy.
Also in the unusual objects category was a large marble sculpture that included the figure of a nude hermaphrodite. Depending on the viewing angle, the hermaphrodite might appear male, female, or intersex. The accompanying text stated that such sculptures were popular conversation pieces.
A life size model of a Pompeiian dining room, or triclinium, was featured in the exhibit. I was excited to walk around inside this close room with its three built-in couches. The idea of lounging around while eating grapes and so forth appeals to me. However, the Cute-Little-Red-Headed-Girlfriend finds the Roman practice of eating while reclining unhealthy.
The exhibit's final rooms documented the Pompeii mania that took over Europe after the first excavations of the area in the eighteenth century. After seeing Pompeii and the Roman Villa, I felt the city taking over my imagination, too. I'm now reading Mary Beard's The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found to satisfy my new interest.
As a random note, I've decided that one of my favorite words ever is Herculaneum. Say it with me a few times: Herculaneum. Herculaneum. Herculaneum.