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Villa dei papiri

The section includes busts, herms and statues in bronze and marble from Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, one of the largest and most lavish Roman residences ever to be explored, excavated at the wishes of Charles of Bourbon between 1750 and 1764. Apart from the extraordinary collection of works of art, the villa has a notable library of papyri with Greek and Latin texts.

History and formationThe section includes busts, herms, and statues in bronze and marble from Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum. It was opened in 1973 and is still located on the first floor of the museum. Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, one of the largest and most lavish Roman residences ever to be explored, excavated at the wishes of Charles of Bourbon, using a complex system of vertical air shafts and underground tunnels, between 1750 and 1764. The excavations were carried out under the guidance of a Spanish surveyor Don Rocco Gioacchino Alcubierre and later by a Swiss engineer Karl Weber, who was responsible for the plan dated July 20 1754, giving indications of where the sculptures were found, which is displayed at the entrance to the collection. The excavations were subsequently continued by Francesco La Vega, Camillo Paderni, custodian of the museum of Portici, and by the French sculptor and restorer Canart; excavations at the villa have recently begun again. The villa was built by a system of terracing on a small hill north west of Herculaneum parallel to the coastline, and extended for over 250 m. on a longitudinal axis running North West/South East. Four main parts of the villa have been identified, belonging to the original plan of the second century BC, later extended in the first half of the first century AD: a central building organised according to the canons of the Italic domus, with an atrium, tablinium, and square peristyle, a series of rooms in the eastern sector, a large rectangular peristyle and several buildings situated to the west of the rectangular peristyle in the direction of a terrace which terminated in a circular belvedere. The residential complex produced nearly ninety sculptures and over 1,800 rolls of papyrus, mostly Greek texts of Epicurean philosphy written by Philodemus of Gadara, a philosopher of the first century BC, as well as some texts in Latin, including an anonymous work De bello Actiaco about the war fought by Mark Anthony and Cleopatra against Octavian. Undoubtedly a member of the Roman nobilitas (aristocracy), devoted to Epicurean philosophy and a sophisticated admirer of Hellenistic culture, the owner of the villa has been identified as Lucius Calpurnius Piso Cesoninus, father-in-law of Julius Caesar, consul in 58 BC and a friend of Philodemus of Gadara, or Appius Claudius Pulcher, consul in 38 a.C., brother-in-law of Lucullus, and famous for his interest in Hellenistic culture. ItineraryIn room CXIV there some interesting small bronze busts of philosophers and men of letters, such as Epicurus, Hermarcus, Zeno and Demosthenes, probably used as a sort of bookmark in the famous library. The adjoining room CXV is devoted to the display of two carbonised unrolled papyri, as well as the enlarged reproductions of some of the papyri found in the villa, now kept in the National Library of Naples. Vistors to Room CXVI are immediately struck by the five splendid bronze statues of the “dancers”, which come from the peristyle and depict five peplophoroi, water-carriers who can probably be identified with the Danaides, the daughters of king Danaos who, according to myth, were condemned to draw water for eternity for having killed their husbands. The same room, which is full of masterpieces, also contains the two famous bronze statues of the runners, copies of originals dating to the fourth century BC, a bronze statue of Hermes at rest inspired by the work of Lysippus, a bronze statue of a drunken Satyr lying on a rock covered by a lion skin, two elegant bronze statues of fawns, as well as a series of busts of sovereigns, condottieri and Greek philosophers and men of letters, which also continue into the following room CXVII. At the centre of this room is the particularly interesting head of the so-called 'Pseudo Seneca', in reality a bronze portrait that may depict Ennius or Aristophanes or, more probably, Hesiod or Aesop. Lastly, there are three other interesting statues, a marble statue of Athena Promachos, an Augustan reworking of a statue of the second century BC, and two herms, one of Dorphorus by Polycletus and an Amazon, a copy of an original by Phydias.

Further information
Collection data

Wojcik 1986; Museo Archeologico 1994; Museo Archeologico 1999; Adamo Muscettola 2000a; Mattush 2005.

Location: First floor; rooms CXIV - CXVII