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Collection

Silverware

This is the largest collection that currently exists of Roman silver, most of which was found during the excavations in the Vesuvian area, Pompeii and Herculaneum. The collection includes kitchenware, drinking vessels, as well as toiletries of exceptional beauty and quality. The largest and most surprising core of the collection is the treasure of silverware from the House of Menander at Pompeii.

History and formationThe Naples Archaeological Museum houses the largest existing collection of Roman silver, the vast majority of which comes from Pompeii and Herculaneum. The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD put a permanent stop to life in several towns and cities in Campania but it has provided us with a snapshot of daily life in these ancient settlements so that they are the only ones to have preserved entire silver services which were actually in use in Roman families of the Imperial period. RouteThe following exhibits are on display in the collection: kitchenware (argentum escarium), including trays, pateras, plates, phialai; drinking vessels (argentum potorium), including kantharoi, skyphoi, kalathoi, but also toiletry articles (argentum balneare) such as mirrors and hairpins. Many of the objects are still surprisingly shiny, due to the ancient custom of keeping silver and bronze objects wrapped in woollen cloth or fabric in order to avoid damage caused by exposure to air. Some of the oldest objects, although they do not come from the Vesuvian excavation sites, include three cups in gilded silver with relief decoration of acanthus leaves from Civita Castellana (Falerii Novi); they were made in the Middle East in the second century BC. However, the largest and most surprising core of the collection is the treasure of silverware from the House of Menander (I, 10, 4), whose name derives from the fresco depicting the Greek playwright. The treasure was found in an underground basement of the house that belonged to the Poppaei (a family of freedmen) on December 5 1930. It consists of 118 pieces of silver weighing a total of 84 kilograms. The silver was stored in a wooden chest and wrapped in fabric and cloth while above them were kept the family jewels together with a hoard of gold and silver coins. Some of the rarest and highest quality pieces, due to the fact that they were signed by the caelatores (engravers), are the pair of skyphoi with rural scenes signed by the same argentarius (silversmith). Other pieces of silverware from Pompeii include the splendid kantharos with Tritons and Nereids, a theme taken from the most exquisite Neo-Attic repertoire, found in 1929 in the so-called Casa dei Quadretti Teatrali (also known as the House of P.Casca Longus) (I, 6, 11) together with other more minor silver furnishings, and a kalathos depicting the apotheosis of Homer; the poet is shown sitting on an eagle and accompanied by swans, rising up to the sky together with characters from the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Further information
Collection data
Bibliography:

Pappalardo 1989; De Caro 1994; De Caro 1999.

Location: First floor; Room LXXXIX