New York University: Exhibition of Roman Frescoes from the Doomed City opens in-person at NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World

When archaeologists in Pompeii excavated the so-called House of the Painters at Work, they realized the home had been undergoing a major redecorating project in 79 CE, when Mount Vesuvius erupted. Pots of pigment, mixing bowls, tools, and containers of plaster, as well as traces of scaffolding, were found on the site alongside a half-finished fresco. Although the artwork itself is incomplete, its discovery helped illuminate the Roman painting process, filling in the steps used in the technique of buon fresco (literally, true fresh).

A new exhibition at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, Pompeii in Color: The Life of Roman Painting, opens for in-person viewing on Thursday, Feb. 24, and will remain on view at the ISAW galleries at 15 E. 84th St., New York, N.Y, through May 29.

The exhibit is free and open to the public. Visitor health and safety guidelines may be found here.

Pompeii in Color presents 35 frescoes from the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Among these important works—originally from Roman homes—are paintings representing dynamic mythological scenes, inviting landscapes, sumptuous still lifes, astonishing trompe-l’oeil, captivating portraits, and energetic genre scenes from a vanished world that most people know only by the volcanic eruption.

The works are seldom exhibited outside Italy. They provide a thrilling view of ancient painting, the tastes and values of the Romans who lived with these works, as well as the techniques used by the artists who created them. The remarkably well-preserved frescoes from lost villas invite us to see beyond the ashes of the tragic city and instead experience the vibrant world of the ancient Roman home as the Pompeians themselves knew it. Just as intriguingly, the exhibition raises many of the same questions that we do today when we enter a home: What stories are being told through décor, and how and why? And what can these images show us about the world that a person inhabits?

The exhibition can also be viewed online at pompeiiincolor.com. (For the benefit of online guests, the digital complement to the exhibition includes several interactive functions, including a fly-through video of a three-dimensional re-creation of a Pompeian home, a video commentary by an archeologist who is currently working at Pompeii, and other interactive digital features that help bring the paintings to life in novel ways.)

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