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Pompeian collections

Museographical history Of the two fundamental core collections that have contributed to the museum displays of the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, the so-called “Pompeian Collections” are perhaps the most famous worldwide. The collections date back to the eighteenth century and are linked to the development of archaeological work in the area around Vesuvius, which began in 1738 and gradually evolved over the course of two and a half centuries. Furnishings, statues, mosaics, frescoes, tools and utensils from the Vesuvian area, which are now housed in the Naples museum, have come to form the largest collection of objects related to culture and daily life in Campania in the late first century AD. The new museum display, which is still under way, also includes the “Pompeian collections”. Many of them are still displayed according to the original organisation according to genre and material used by Fiorelli; this layout is gradually being modified in preference to displays organised according to themes or reconstructions of contexts, public or private buildings, which are particularly interesting and well-represented. The first display to be organised according to such criteria dates to 1973 with the display of Villa dei Papiri, followed by the Secret Cabinet (2000), the House of the Faun (2001), or the thematic rooms devoted to economy and business in the “Medagliere” (2001). The entire section devoted to Pompeian painting is currently being rearranged. The following sections currently contain objects and finds from the ancient cities of the Vesuvian area: the Frescoes of Pompeii, Silver, Ivory, bone and glazed pottery, the House of the Faun, the Epigraphic Collection, the Secret Cabinet, mosaics, Numismatics, sculpture in Roman Campania, Small bronze furnishings, the Temple of Isis, Glass and the Villa dei Papiri.History of the excavationsThe history of the excavation of Herculaneum and Pompeii is of fundamental importance for under standing the criteria and formation of the collections; there is a reconstruction of Pompeii in the large model of the city on display in the museum. The eighteenth century Charles of Bourbon, King of Naples, undertook the excavations in Portici near to one of the royal holiday residences in an area where, in around 1710 - 1711, the general of the Austrian army Emmanuel-Maurice de Lorraine, Prince d’Elboeuf found the statues that ended up in the Court of Saxony. During the work, he had the luck to discover a number of other statues and inscriptions which formed part of the decoration of the stage of the Theatre of Herculaneum. Shortly afterwards, in 1748, the excavations in Pompeii began, followed a year later by excavations in Gragnano, where the villas of Stabiae were investigated. These fortunate excavations filled the royal collections with a considerable quantity of art objects, craft objects and more general evidence of daily life and culture in ancient times: bronze and marble statues, exceptional finds such as papyrus, foodstuffs, mosaics, weapons, precious objects and household objects, and a surprising number of paintings, which emerged intact and with their original, bright colours, unlike almost any finds to have emerged since then or preserved in any other collection in Europe. These extraordinary discoveries, which were presented to a wider public through the publication of works such as the “Voyage pittoresque ou description des Royaumes de Naples et de Sicilie”, written in 1782 by the Abbé de Saint-Non, rapidly caught the attention of the world and contributed to making the capital of the Kingdom one of the unmissable destinations of the Grand Tour, the cultural pilgrimage carried out by European scholars and gentlemen to perfect their studies of the ancient world. In order to organise the enormous quantity of objects that began to be uncovered from 1750 onwards, the Villa Reale of Portici was turned into a Museum Herculanense, a museum devoted to the new finds. Between 1748-1749, Charles of bourbon set up a school for copper engraving in Portici, calling on Italian and foreign artists to prepare plates (whose moulds are housed in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples) for the works commissioned from the Stamperia Reale (Royal Printworks); in 1755, the same king founded the Accademia Ercolanese , an academy with fifteen members which was set up especially to prepare the publication and illustration of the results of the excavations. The grandiose publication of the Antichità di Ercolano esposte (1757 - 1792) remains an extremely significant event in the eighteenth century and in the history of archaeological history. Moreover, in order to cope with such an enormous and constantly increasing collection of antiquities, the king also had to establish a scientific and administrative structure that was responsible for the excavations, the protection and running of such an immense heritage. For this purpose, both local scholars and experts from outside the kingdom were summoned, such as the French sculptor Joseph Canart, who had the task of organising the restoration work, and the Roman scholar Camillo Paterni, who was appointed director of the Museo Ercolanense.The excavation team consisted of the following people: the military engineer Roque Joachim de Alcubierre was the field director and head of excavations (1738 - 1741 and 1745 - 1780), assisted by the engineers Karl Weber (1750 - 1760) and Francesco La Vega (1764 - 1780, subsequently excavation director until1784), who were responsible for the excavation diaries or supervised their preparation by their superiors. The entire project was supervised with great passion and learning by the powerful prime minister and friend of the king, the Tuscan Marchese Bernardo Tanucci, who took decisions about the restoration work or displays for the Museum of Portici. The special conditions in which the Vesuvian cities were buried, especially in the case of Herculaneum, initially led to the use of excavation techniques that involved underground tunnels with wells for access and ventilation. This rather dangerous system nevertheless allowed the retrieval only of objects of particularly high quality, with the aim of satisfying the desire of the Bourbons to find splendid works to display in their museum in Portici. Between 1754 and 1764, excavations were carried out at Herculaneum on part of the so-called Villa dei Papiri, one of the largest and most sumptuous Roman villas ever to be explored which produced an extraordinary collection of works of art (busts, herms, statues, in marble and bronze) and an outstanding library of Greek and Latin papyri (the latter are now kept in a special section of the National Library of Naples). However, Herculaneum also yielded other exceptional finds: among these were two large marble equestrian statues of M. Nonius Balbus, found in the so-called Basilica, which also contained the splendid Fourth Style frescoes with Hercules and Telephus, Chiron and Achilles, Marsyas and Olympus, Theseus and the Minotaur. On March 23 1748 the Neapolitan abbot Martorelli, with the help of the military engineer Roque Joachim de Alcubierre, thinking that they had uncovered the ancient city of Stabiae, began an excavation in the area of the Civita. In this phase, in the area which would later be identified as the ancient city of Pompeii, work proceeded in disorderly, sporadic fashion until 1749 and then began again with more assiduousness in 1754 with the excavation of the so-called Villa of Cicero in Porta Ercolano, which had already been investigated in 1749; the villa produced numerous fragments of Third Style fragments of frescoes painted on a black background, as well as two mosaic emblema signed by Dioscurides of Samos. Between 1755 and 1757 explorations were carried out of the Praedia of Iulia Felix (II, 4, 3), to the north of the amphitheatre, which led to the discovery of the splendid small paintings depicting still lifes or scenes of life in the forum. Nevertheless, it was only in 1763, during the excavation of the cemetery of Porta Ercolano, that it was realised that the hill of Civita corresponded to the ancient city of Pompeii, in particular as a result of the discovery of the inscription of Titus Suedius Clemens, in which there was a clear reference to the Res Publica Pompeianorum. The excavations carried out at Stabiae, on the hill of Gragnano, regarded both the villa of S. Marco (1749) and the Villa di Arianna (1757 - 1762); the numerous discoveries included the famous frescoes depciting Flora, Medea, Leda with the swan, and Penelope. In 1759 Carlo left the throne of Naples to his son Ferdinando, hwo was only eight years old, in order to go and take up he throne of Spain where he became Charles III. The person who now was in charge of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and guardian of the young king, until 1776 was the minister Tanucci, under whose authority the investigation of the two Vesuvian sites. Between 1764 and 1766 excavations were carried out at Pompeii in the area of the theatres, the Triangular Forum, and the Temple of Isis, renowned for its paintings full of references to the Ilian cult and the Nilotic world. Around 1770 work shifted back to Porta Ercolano, with the excavation of the Casa del Chirurgo (VI, 1, 10), which produced a considerable number of surgical instruments and the so-called Villa of Diomedes (1771 - 1774), in whose basement several victims of the ruption were found, including women with jewellery and a hoard of coins. The nineteenth century The transformation of the Palazzo dei Regii Studi of Naples into a museum at the end of the eighteenth century marked the beginning of the transfer of materials from the Vesuvian sites from the Museum Herculanense of Portici to the present-day Archaeological Museum, which was completed in around 1827. During the decade of French rule, excavations resumed with Giuseppe Bonaparte from 1806 to 1808, but proceeded with greater intensity with Gioacchino Murat and his wife Carolina Murat, who embarked with considerable tenacity on task of unearthing the “entire city” of Pompeii. The queen’s passion and enthusiasm for antiquities were shown by her presence during the excavations and by her continuous encouragement and personal gifts to the workmen. This phase saw the identification and uncovering of the city wall, the amphitheatre, part of the forum area, the Basilica and various private residences, including the Casa di Pansa (VI, 6, 1) in insula Arriana Polliana. In 1816 Ferdinand returned to Naples from exile in Palermo, with the title of Ferdinand I, King of the Two Sicilies, and he named the museum the “Real Museo Borbonico”. A key role in the organisation and continuity of the museum collections and the archaeological research was played by Michele Arditi who held the posts of Director of the Museum and Superintendent of the Royal Excavations until 1838; he had held these posts since the beginning of the Napoleonic period. An extremely important figure in the world of eighteenth century and nineteenth century Italian antiquities, he promoted numerous initiatives for the excavations of Pompeii and was the author of various legislative projects for the excavations and the museums. Ferdinand I was succeeded by his son Francis I (1825 - 1830) and during his reign, during the 1820s, work resumed, after a gap of fifty years, on the excavations of Herculaneum (1828 - 1855), which no longer involved tunnelling but were now conducted in the open air. Nevertheless, the discoveries at Pompeii caused a sensational surprise; the House of the Faun (VI, 12, 2), which were excavated between 1830 and 1831, produced splendid mosaics for the museum, including the famous “Mosaic of Alexander”, finds which represent the most precious core of the Neapolitan collection in terms of quality and the richness of its figurative depictions, together with other materials from the same house. During the reigns of Francis I’s successors, Ferdinand II (1830 - 1859) and then Francesco II, the last of the Bourbons who remained on the throne for only a year, work continued with the excavations in the regiones VI and VII, to the sides of Via dell’Abbondanza, and with the investigations in vie della Fortuna e di Nola and the insulae overlooking them. After the unification of Italy, archaeological investigation continued with renewed fervour and a new organisation in terms of the research, excavation methodology and restoration techniques, tank to the vital contribution of the archaeologist and numismatist Giuseppe Fiorelli, who directed the excavations and the Museum from 1863 to 1875. He tried to introduce a more systematic approach to the excavation, linking the parts that had already been excavated and leaving the frescoes in situ. He worked in the museum, which continued to be filled with the numerous new finds, with great passion, rearranging the collections; as part of his legacy, he left the large model of Pompeii which was an object of extraordinary didactic value and a precious document that illustrated the history of research in the ancient city. Many sensational new discoveries were made in the second half of the nineteenth century, including the House of the Cytharist (1853 - 1872), where the famous bronze statue of Apollo playing the cithara that gave its name to the luxurious house was found; the gold lamp, a unique piece found in 1863 in the area of Temple of Venus; the House of L. Cecilio Giocondo (1875 - 1876), famous for its “wax tablets” (book-keeping documents), the House of the Centenary (1879 - 1880), which yielded the famous fresco with Bacchus and Vesuvius and a bronze statue of a satyr with a wineskin. Subsequently the influx of material from the Vesuvian area into the museum became extremely sporadic. The twentieth century The period around the turn of the century was marked by the excavations in the suburban villas which were granted in concession to private contractors, which led to the dispersion of an immense cultural heritage. For example, the “Treasure of Boscoreale”, discovered in 1895 in Villa della Pisanella, which consisted of silver, jewellery and coins, eventually ended up in large part, after a series of complex events, in the Louvre (silverware and jewellery) and the London antiques market (coins). The splendid frescoes from the villa of Publius Fannius Synistor, also in Boscoreale, immediately after the excavations between 1894 and 1900, were removed and recomposed into 71 “pictures”, and divided between various foreign museums, except for the two frescoes still housed in the Museum of Naples. The second decade of the twentieth century was characterised by the unearthing of the whole of via dell’Abbondanza a Pompei, under the direction of Vittorio Spinazzola, while the years between 1924 and 1961 were marked by the intense excavation work conducted by Amedeo Maiuri. He restarted the excavations at Herculaeum, which had stopped in 1877, which were conducted between 1927 and 1958.during the exploration of the House of Menander (I, 10, 4), in 1930, the famous archaeologist found one of the greatest treasures of silver from Pompeii, composed of 118 pieces, currently on display in the Silver Room.

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Thematics data
Bibliography: Collezioni Museo 1989; De Caro 1994; De Caro 1999; De Caro 2001b; Raccolte pompeiane 2001.