Monday, July 28, 2014


Carol C. Mattusch (ed.), Rediscovering the Ancient World on the Bay of Naples, 1710-1890. Studies in the history of art, 79. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 2013. Pp. 292. ISBN 9780300189216. $70.00.

Reviewed by Marden Fitzpatrick Nichols, Georgetown University (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

"Each antiquary, each culture, creates a unique antiquity." So states Alain Schnapp, in a learned and wide-ranging essay on eighteenth-century Naples within this impressive collection (14). If twenty-first-century Western culture may be said to have created a unique Pompeii, it is Pompeii as a palimpsest city—perhaps even, to quote Judith Harris, a reflection, "or Pompeii in a looking glass."1 The reception of the uncovered cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum is hardly a new topic. 2 Yet, the past decade has witnessed an upsurge of innovative scholarship on the excavation history of the Bay of Naples and the variety of responses its ancient sites have elicited over time. This trend has yielded exhibitions, such as " The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection" (2012-2013), edited volumes, for instance, Pompeii and the Public Imagination (2011), monographs like Mary Beard's Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town (2009), and, most recently, a memoir, Ingrid Rowland's From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town (2014).3 The fourteen beautifully illustrated essays in the present collection, written by seasoned archaeological and art historical experts, offer fresh evidence and nuanced perspectives.

The volume results from a January 2009 conference organized by the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA) in conjunction with the National Gallery of Art exhibition "Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples". Exhibition curator Carol C. Mattusch addressed the eighteenth-century rediscovery of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other settlements destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE (the sum of which is sometimes referred to, metonymically, as "Pompeii") in one section of her exhibition, and in its catalogue.4 The volume under review, however, explores the topic in greater depth, shedding light on a pivotal era (1710-1890) distinguished by a series of major excavations, the development of the Grand Tour, and the transformation, in response, of fine and decorative arts across Europe and beyond.

Mattusch begins by outlining the series of events that constitute the "rediscovery" in her title (a better word, Mattusch reminds us, than "discovery," since the existence of these buried cities was never truly forgotten). Citing current archaeological challenges and opportunities, Mattusch lays bare the lasting repercussions of eighteenth-century events. Alain Schnapp's "The Antiquarian Culture of Eighteenth-Century Naples as a Laboratory of New Ideas" provides an intellectual overview of the period and thus serves as a second introduction to the volume. During an age known for its antiquarian fervor, Schnapp emphasizes, there was significant debate surrounding the proper way to approach and appreciate the past, with the figure of the antiquary, at times considered the antithesis of the enlightened philosopher, serving as a lightning rod for debate (17).

Jens Daehner's and Christopher Parslow's essays narrow the focus to individual artifacts and remind us that, for objects uncovered during this heady time, fortune could be remarkably serendipitous. Daehner reveals the quasi-coincidental manner in which Augustus III, king of Poland, a ruler with little taste for classical sculpture, came to possess the so-called Herculaneum Women. He suggests that we foreground the role of colonialism—rather than archaeological or antiquarian fervor per se when considering the forces that brought these marble representations of ancient elites to "transalpine Europe" (39). Parslow's chapter on the Sacrarium of Isis in the Praedia of Julia Felix in Pompeii peels back layers of misinterpretation in order to reconstruct the archaeological and historical contexts of this once-spectacular "closet-sized" shrine (49). Through Parslow's analysis, the range of approaches over time to the associated wall paintings and artifacts becomes an object of study in its own right. One early investigator, so we learn, considered contemporary Neapolitan gestures crucial evidence in his interpretation of the gesticulations of a bronze Priapus and the hand signals of satyrs adorning a tripod.

Carlo Knight and John E. Moore, examining eighteenth-century correspondence, offer a closer look at pivotal figures. Analysis of the correspondence of Charles III and the prince of San Nicandro (who acted as grand chamberlain) leads Knight to question San Nicandro's bad reputation and to suggest that disagreements with the influential Italian statesman Bernardo Tanucci are largely to blame. Moore, then, provides us with a closer look at Tanucci's correspondence, which offers valuable insight into the relationships (and tribulations) involved in publishing the finds from Herculaneum. Early on, knowledge of the finds was restricted because of limits on publication; this well-known fact underpins a great deal of scholarship on the diffusion and impact of ancient imagery from the Bay of Naples. Knight's and Moore's careful analysis of these letters, however, brings much needed specificity to the study of the conduits of knowledge and spread of information during the eighteenth century.

The sequence of three essays that follow, by Steffi Roettgen, Sophie Descamps-Lequime, and Nancy H. Ramage, addresses eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century European visual culture. The brevity of Roettgen's argument for how the Antichità influenced German painters leaves the reader wanting to know more about the dynamics of appropriation and questioning the identifications of models (e.g. the figure of Arcadia in "Hercules with the Child Telephos" as the model for Jupiter's pose and drapery in Meng's"Jupiter Kissing Ganymede" (127)). Descamps-Lequime considers how the objects collected at Malmaison figured into the web of classical allusions in French visual arts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. She arrives at the thought-provoking conclusion that ancient objects known only through engravings were far more influential than those displayed close at hand. Ramage locates images of flying maenads and cupids from the Antichità in eighteenth-century decorative arts, ranging from Wedgwood sconces to Sèvres plaques, then discusses the dual appeal of the "Seller of Cupids" from the Antichità, an image both classically evocative and sexually titillating. I wondered if the interpretive games Hérica Valladares uncovered in her analysis of eighteenth-century responses to the similarly ambiguous "Four Women from Stabiae" might also have contributed to the popularity of Ramage's floating figures.5

Bruce Redford's essay on Grand Tour portraits captures the spirit of "seria ludo", inviting the reader to accompany him on a jovial expedition to "crack the code of these encrypted pictures" (179) through a rigorous examination of gestures. Poetic responses to Herculaneum are Eric M. Moormann's theme. Most fascinating of these is Maizony de Lauréal's epic poem, which purported to be a translation of a lost papyrus (post-79 CE), relating the inhabitants' responses to the disaster. In the conclusion of the essay, Moormann offers an intriguing hypothesis: the popularity of Herculaneum as a literary subject may have been a direct result of frustrated desires aroused by the failure of the library of the Villa dei Papiri to produce substantial works by major Latin authors.

The last three essays take a panoramic view of the sites to explore issues of space and experience. Mary Beard considers the impact of Pompeii's fame on nineteenth-century British and American visitors, who arrived with preconceived notions and inflated expectations.6 Pompeii functioned as a "city of the dead," and therefore as a memento mori, but also as an "open air museum," where history came alive through reenactments (211). The relationship between this enlivened Pompeii and the concurrent Skansen movement (the development of open-air museums, emanating from Northern Europe), might be a fruitful line of enquiry for future scholarship. These nascent living history environments may have stimulated the appetite for reenactment that Beard describes—or factored into the debates that followed.

John Pinto examines differing approaches to architectural drawing in late eighteenth-century Pompeii. Pinto's three protagonists are Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Francesco Piranesi, and Louis-Jean Desprez. Placed side-by-side, dissimilar renderings of the same building not only offer evidence of competing and conflicting understandings of the roles of accuracy, objectivity, license, and fantasy, but also provide another window onto intellectual disputes at the core of the Enlightenment.

Though today lesser known, in the eighteenth century Herculaneum enjoyed the more robust reputation, thanks to a variety of factors, including its perceived refinement and the publication of the Antichità volumes. Surveying comparisons made by visitors to the two sites, Eugene J. Dwyer reasons that Pompeii's relative "openness to the skies" ultimately gave it the competitive edge it still enjoys today (250). I assume that Andrew Wallace-Hadrill's Herculaneum: Past and Future (2011), with its chapter, "The Tale of Two Cities," appeared too late for Dwyer's consideration.7 Wallace-Hadrill's work, which succinctly outlines the repercussions of the divergence in preservation between the two sites for contemporary historians and archaeologists, dovetails nicely with Dwyer's essay.

The collection is well edited and handsomely produced. Replication across the volume of illustrations discussed by multiple authors and inclusion of endnotes after each chapter will facilitate the distribution of individual essays as course readings. However, the majority of the essays are better suited to advanced researchers or graduate students than to undergraduates. For teaching the latter, the exhibition catalogue is a fantastic resource.8

Table of Contents

Elizabeth Cropper, Preface, p. vii
Carol C. Mattusch, Introduction, p. 1
Alain Schnapp, The Antiquarian Culture of Eighteenth-Century Naples as a Laboratory of New Ideas, p. 11
Jens Daehner, The Herculaneum Women in Eighteenth-Century Europe, p. 35
Christopher Parslow, The Sacrarium of Isis in the Praedia of Julia Felix in Pompeii in Its Archaeological and Historical Contexts, p. 47
Carlo Knight, Politics and Royal Patronage in the Neapolitan Regency: The Correspondence of Charles III and the Prince of San Nicandro, 1759-1767, p. 75
John E. Moore, "To the Catholic King" and Others: Bernardo Tanucci's Correspondence and the Herculaneum Project, p. 89
Steffi Roettgen, German Painters in Naples and Their Contribution to the Revival of Antiquity 1760-1799, p. 123
Sophie Descamps-Lequime, The Ferdinand IV Donation to the First Consul and His Wife: Antiquities from the Bay of Naples at Malmaison, p. 141
Nancy H. Ramage, Flying Maenads and Cupids: Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Eighteenth-Century Decorative Arts, p. 161
Bruce Redford, Grecian Taste and Neapolitan Spirit: Grand Tour Portraits of the Society of the Dilettanti, p. 177
Eric M. Moormann, Literary Evocations of Herculaneum in the Nineteenth Century, p. 189
Mary Beard, Taste and the Antique: Visiting Pompeii in the Nineteenth Century, p. 205
John Pinto, "Speaking Ruins": Piranesi and Desprez at Pompeii, p. 229
Eugene J. Dwyer, Pompeii versus Herculaneum, p. 245
Contributors, p. 265
Index, p. 267


1.   Judith Harris, Pompeii Awakened. A Story of Rediscovery (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2007), 5.
2.   See, inter alia, Ian Jenkins and Kim Sloan, Vases and Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and His Collection (London: British Museum Press, 1996); Christopher Parslow, Rediscovering Antiquity: Karl Weber and the Excavation of Herculaneum, Pompeii, and Stabiae (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
3.   Victoria C. Gardner Coates, Kenneth Lapatin, and Jon L. Seydl, eds., The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2012) [exhibition catalogue]; Shelley Hales and Joanna Paul, eds., Pompeii in the Public Imagination from Its Rediscovery to Today (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011); Mary Beard, Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town (London: Profile Books, 2008); Ingrid Rowland, From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2014).
4.   Carol C. Mattusch, ed., Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples. (Washington: National Gallery of Art, 2008). Reviewed in BMCR 2009.05.18
5.   Hérica Valladares, "Four Women From Stabiae: Eighteenth-Century Antiquarian Practice and the History of Ancient Roman Painting," in Antiquity Recovered: The Legacy of Pompeii and Herculaneum, eds. Victoria C. Gardner Coates and Jon L. Seydl (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007), 73-93.
6.   Disclaimer: Reviewer was this contributor's PhD student.
7.   Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, "The Tale of Two Cities," in Herculaneum: Past and Future (London: Frances Lincoln, 2011), 287-305.
8.   See note 4 above.

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