Sunday, December 9, 2018


Shelley Hales, Anne-Marie Leander Touati, Returns to Pompeii: Interior Space and Decoration Documented and Revived 18th-20th Century. Skrifter utgivna av Svenska Institutet i Rom. Serie in 4°, 62. Stockholm: Svenska institutet i Rom, 2016. Pp. 307. ISBN 9789170421839.

Reviewed by John R. Clarke, University of Texas at Austin (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

This handsome volume investigates the fascinating phenomenon of modern interiors modeled on, or inspired by, the wall paintings of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Readers will immediately appreciate the illustrative apparatus, consisting of high-quality color images that are scattered throughout the text and vividly document the many approaches taken by decorators charged with evoking ancient decorative interiors for their patrons. Not only do the interiors created in the 250-year period considered in this volume deserve study and publication, but—in often very "un-Pompeian" ways— they reveal a variety of ways of framing what patrons and the artists working for them envisioned as "Pompeian" decoration.

The premise of the volume, as editors Hales and Leander Touati clearly lay out the Introduction, is to present new work on changing fashions of "Pompeian" interior-decorative schemes, emphasizing both their relationships with ancient models and their function as an index of attitudes toward the ancient past on the part of contemporary viewers. As popular as this subject has been in the recent literature, there exist no major treatments of the Bourbon lands of Naples and Spain (chapters by Margot Hleunig Heilmann and Mirella Romero Rocio), nor of those located in Denmark (chapter by Ulla Houkjaer), and Sweden (chapters by Margareta Nisser-Dalman, Anne-Marie Leander Touati, and Leander Touati and Ulf Cederlöf). The answer to the central question of how artists used Pompeian material to create these interiors takes two paths. One leads to Naples, where artists and patrons could simply visit the ruins; another path leads us to far-off countries, where artists had to rely on sketches, prints and illustrated books. Even so, we find that the eighteenth-century Pompeii-inspired interiors often ignored the evidence at hand, relying instead on the most fashionable contemporary interiors, particularly those of the French. Furthermore, the authors attempt to account for how these different cities and courts adapted these fashions in relation to local traditions and exigencies. By focusing on these relatively unstudied areas (Naples, Aschaffenburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Paris) and by extending the study of "Pompeian" interiors beyond the usual focus on the late eighteenth century to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the reader gets a sense of how European viewers at different points in the past two and a half centuries imagined the Pompeian past, and the meanings they distilled from these novel interiors.

Hleunig Heilmann's study of Pompeian influence in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Naples reveals that despite the establishment of the Accademia Ercolanese in 1755, and because of Luigi Vanvitelli's conservatism, Pompeian influence in interior decoration first appears in 1770, under Vanvitelli's son Carlo, who "reimported" Pompeian patterns and motifs from France in a courtly variant of the Louis Seize style. In Carlo Vanvitelli's decorations at Caserta (1778-1785), as well as in wallpaper designs, we first see conscious use of motifs from Pompeii and Herculaneum. But it is only in 1788, when the king approves the making of color copies of entire walls in Pompeii that served as models for the black-and-white illustrations of the Ornati (1796-1808), that the Reale Accademia di Disegno gained direct contact with Pompeian wall painting. Under the new rulers Joseph Bonaparte and Joachim Murat (1806-1815), the Empire style enters Naples from Paris, as Antonio Niccolini replaces Carlo Vanvitelli at Caserta; unfortunately those decorations have not survived. With the restoration of Ferdinand, we first see neo-Pompeian interiors, informed by F. Mazois's Les ruines de Pompéi and especially the color lithographs in W. Zahn's Die schönsten Ornamente. Nicolini's Tempio della Floridiana provides a precocious example of polychromy in its façade decoration, whereas the Salottino Pompeiano in the Capodimonte Palace showcases careful copies of pictures found at Herculaneum, including the famous Tragic Actor. Nicolini's contemporary, Guglielmo Bechi, produced the most authentic neo-Pompeian interiors for the Palazzo San Teodoro, and Hleunig Heilmann's discussion, accompanied by splendid color illustrations, effectively conveys both the brilliance and the fantasy of his creations. She goes on to discuss two further projects for which Bechi created Pompeian interiors, the Villa Pignatelli Cortes and the Casino Doria D'Angri. After Bechi, neo-Pompeian decoration takes an archaeological bent, creating imitations of recently-discovered houses, like Gaetano Genovese's reproduction of the cubiculum of the House of Apollo for the Sala da Toletta of the Royal Palace (1839-1842).

Romero Recios' account of Spanish interior decoration emphasizes the patronage of Charles of Naples (later Charles III of Spain) in small palaces built at El Pardo, El Escorial, and Aranjuez. It is worth noting that, as at Naples, Pompeian motifs and ornaments used in decorating the rooms of these casitas were shaped, as at Naples, by French decorators, often drawing on publications like Le antichità di Ercolano esposte. Romero Recio demonstrates that artists used these motifs in varied materials, including ivory plaques, embroidered tapestries, and furniture, and points out that they often keep company with Renaissance versions of ancient Roman painting, notably Raphael's grotteschi decorating the Vatican Loggia.

Nisser-Dalman investigates the reasons for the lack of Pompeian precedents for the "Pompeian Style" interiors in eighteenth-century Swedish interior decoration, focusing on two key figures: King Gustav II and the painter Louis Masreliez. As with Spanish interior decorations, those designed by Masreliez lean much more heavily on reproductions of Raphel's Loggia and Miri's publication of the Domus Aurea. Catherine the Great of Russia even commissioned full-scale copies of the Loggia's wall and ceiling decoration, perhaps because "Raphael's naturalistic interpretation of ancient wall painting corresponded so well to late 18th-century aesthetic preferences. . ." (p. 88). Although neither Masreliez nor anyone in eighteenth-century Sweden called his decorations "Pompeian" ("arabesque" was the proper term), the name begins to appear around 1850.

The centerpiece of Ulla Houkjær's essay is the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen (1839-1848), which she characterizes as "the triumph of polychromy." The architect Gottlieb Bindesboll's immersion in contemporary study of ancient polychromy, as well as his two-year stay with Thorvaldsen at Rome, contributed to a design that employed bright colors on both exterior and interior surfaces, work that engaged a large team of artists. It is interesting that even at this late date many of the decorations find inspiration in Mirri's engravings of the Domus Aurea and Raphael's Vatican Loggia (pp. 110-116). Here, as in the earlier chapters, the theme of nationalism—or at least national identities—comes to the fore. Not only is the Thorvaldsen Museum a repository of the artist's own plaster models and his collection of antiquities, it is the artist's tomb: he is a national hero. Reinterpretations of the Pompeian style, inspired mainly by Fourth-Style decorations from the Vesuvian region and Rome, continue to spread both in the private and public spheres, only to disappear with the dawn of Danish Functionalism in the second decade of the twentieth century.

Leander Touati brings Nisser-Dalman's account through the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, examining a group of interiors from the 1920s that run the gamut from country house (the sadly destroyed Villa Byström), to the delightfully playful Skandia-Teatern, to the offbeat symbolism in the Stockholm central Railway Station, to the Metropol-Palais cinema with its careful imitations of well-known paintings (e.g., the House of the Vettii, fig. 28a-b).

The only chapter to deal with travel accounts is that of Leander Touati and Cederlof, who present accounts of three Swedes, Jean Eric Rehn, Johan Pasch, and Georg Fröman, who traveled to Naples, Portici, and Herculaneum in 1756—unfortunately two years before the inauguration of the Museo Herculanese in the Caramanico wing of the Palazzo Reale. Information on interiors is exiguous in comparison with the accounts of another Swede, the sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel, who visited Portici and Pompeii in1768. Particularly useful is his description of the Herculanese Museum (pp. 158-162).

In a fortuitous follow-up, Bragantini and Cantilena discuss an exhibition held at the Palazzo Reale at Portici in May 2009, aimed at exploring the connections between the excavations of the Vesuvian sites and the creation of this very museum. The exhibition, installed in the former private royal apartments rather than in the original location of the Herculanese Museum, presented new information on both Bourbon techniques of restoring sculpture and frescoes and on Padre Piaggio's work of unrolling the papyri from the eponymous villa.

Ludwig I's recreation of the House of the Dioscuri, the Pompejanum in Aschaffenburg, is the subject of Bergmann's contribution, demonstrating how the reproduction, relying on the ruins themselves and sketches and descriptions of the 1820s and 1830s, preserved it in a way the original at Pompeii cannot—stripped as it is of its rich pictorial decoration. Yet when the copy had to be restored from massive damage suffered in WWII, scholars and architects had to study the original once again and use a variety of surrogate visual forms—the most striking of these Felice Padiglione's 1860 cork model of Pompeii.

Hales's account of the Maison Pompéienne in Paris, built between 1856 and 1861 for Emperor Napoléon III's nephew, Prince Jérome Napoléon, emphasizes its Foucauldian heterachronic heterotopia: ". . . a place of otherness in which time and place might be freed temporarily from the restrictions of the real world around it, allowing inhabitants brief respite from those rules in which to recast themselves" (p. 231). The architect, Alfred Normand, based the Maison Pompéienne on the Villa of Diomedes. Both Normand and Boulanger were winners of the Grand Prix who had served their times as pensionnaires of the Académie de France à Rome, and they went to extraordinary lengths to record the Maison's architecture and wall paintings in refined drawings that look like the reconstructions of Pompeian houses they had produced. Gustave Boulanger also immortalized the atrium of the house with his painting of the rehearsal of Le joueur de flute and La femme de Diomède, performed for its inauguration in February 1860. Although the building only survived until 1891, in addition to Boulanger's painting we have an extensive description by Ernest Feydeau and two guided tours by Théophile Gautier, one of them presented by his fictional creation, Arria Marcella, in his prologue to La femme di Diomède. A rich reference on such cross-media recreations not cited by Hales is Eric Moormann's recent book Pompeii's Ashes.1

Hales develops the notion of the heterachronic heterotopic nature of the Maison by delving into Gautier's novella in conjunction with Boulanger's painting, demonstrating how writer and painter played with the notions of time-travel, restoration of antiquity, and the parallel restoration of monarchy in the Second Empire. Yet Prince Jérome Napoléon was forced to leave Paris in 1866, and the Maison bought for use as a museum, even at a time when the fashion for reconstructed antiquities fades.

The final chapter by Tammisto and Wassholm describes the exhibition held at the Amos Anderson Art Museum in Helsinki, which featured full-size reconstructions of the triclinium and garden of the House of Marcus Lucretius, first excavated in 1846-1847 and further studied by the Expeditio Pompeiana Universitatis Helsingiensis (EPUH, 2002-2006). Careful reconstructions of heavily damaged walls framed the seven panels from the triclinium currently housed in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, as well as 16 of the original marble statues from the garden. Digital reconstructions, including a model (fig. 11.3) that left me puzzled because of its lack of correspondence to the plan (fig. 11.1), facilitated the creation of the physical reconstructions. To judge from detailed observations on the composition, materials, scale, and lighting schemes gained from this exercise, the combination of digital and physical construction furthered the research agenda of the EPUH.

Finally, Hleunig Heilmann's appendix on the terminology used to describe Pompeian revival decorations usefully reminds us of the fraught definitions of "neo-Pompeian," including "arabesque," "grotesque," "Herculanean," "Pompeian," and even "Etruscan."

It is to the credit of this volume that the authors have illuminated in both words and images the vicissitudes of these revivals, situating each initiative in its social and artistic context. It will be of great interest and use to scholars of ancient Roman interiors as well as those concerned with the afterlife of Pompeii in the imagination of European archaeologists, architects, painters, and writers.

Authors and titles

Shelley Hales and Anne-Marie Leander Touati, Introduction
Margot Hleunig Heilmann, Discovery and Reception: The Influence of Pompeian Wall Painting in 18th- And 19th-Century Naples
Mirella Romero Recio, Pompeii in Spanish Interior Decoration
Margareta Nisser-Dalman, The Absence of Pompeian Models in "Pompeian Style" Interiors in 18th-Century Swedish Interior Decoration
Ulla Houkjær, Recollections of A Better Place: The Transformation of Pompeian Ideals in Danish Interior Decoration, 1790-1860
Anne-Marie Leander Touati, Pompeii in Stockholm: A Focus on Content
Anne-Marie Leander Touati and Ulf Cederlöf, Observations on the Museums in Portici and the Vesuvian Sites Made by Two Swedish Professionals in 1756 and 1768, Respectively
Irene Bragantini and Renata Cantilena, Reconstructing a Museum Interior: The Palazzo Reale in Portici
Bettina Bergmann, A Tale of Two Sites: Ludwig I's Pompejanum and the House of the Dioscuri in Pompeii
Shelley Hales, Living with Arria Marcella: Novel Interiors in the Maison Pompéienne
Antero Tammisto and Helena Wassholm, Reconstructing the House of Marcus Lucretius in Helsinki
Margot Hleunig Heilmann, Appendix: Pompeian Revival in the Decorative Arts: Arabesque, Grotesque, Herculanean, Pompeian or Neo-Pompeian? Terminological Clarifications


1.   Eric E.M. Moormann, Pompeii's Ashes: The Reception of the Cities Buried by Vesuvius in Literature, Music and Drama (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015).

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